Farron-hunting season begins

I wasn’t at Liberal Democrat Conference last weekend, because I had a much more relaxing and stress-relieving weekend away booked instead, but it seems that the Conference was used to make a major declaration: we’re now in Farron season. Yes, those who’ve been waiting for months, even years, to begin having a go at the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale have been given official sanction to do so by Paddy Ashdown.

(And yes, in a week where the media’s been filled with the elder statesman of Top Gear being suspended for punching someone, it seems it’s still all right for former Marine commandos to threaten volunteers with violence if we say it’s only joking)

Farron season allows for threats on all fronts, so as well as being criticised for being too popular and too honest, he also finds ‘senior party insiders’ are briefing against him in the Times. Here he’s come up against the magician’s choice of politics, where whatever choice he’d made would be criticised on spurious grounds. Having weekly briefings as part of his Foreign Affairs brief apparently makes him ‘like Sarah Palin’, whereas if he didn’t have them he’d be attacked for being either uninformed or too arrogant to want them. In the same way, during the campaign he’ll either be criticised for ignoring his constituency and spending too much time helping others, or spending too much time worrying about his own majority while others are struggling.

It is interesting to see that despite the leadership’s claims that all is well and the party is heading towards inevitable Cleggite triumph at the election, whatever the polls say, there does seem to be a concerted attempt to amplify the Stop Farron messaging. It suggests to me that some people aren’t quite as confident about Clegg remaining leader after the election as he seems to be, and have realised that they need to be getting ready for the next fight. I suspect there are quite a few people currently in the leadership coterie who would be likely to not be so close to power if Tim Farron was in the role, but would remain there if someone else got the job, and they’re the sort of ‘senior party insiders’ who don’t get told to shut up and deliver leaflets instead of briefing the Times.

All in all, it seems to me that Tim Farron’s the one getting on with his job with the same candour he usually does it with, while others are skulking in the shadows, laying the ground for the fight after the election. It’s just another level of intrigue to add to an election campaign that’s turning into a giant policy-free soap.

And sometimes elections aren’t Rigged

So, in the end, it seems that just two weeks is not enough time to organise a grassroots campaign for the Party Presidency, though Jennie gave it a damn good go. Still, there’s two years until the next contest, which is a lot more notice…

As it stands, it looks as though the contest is going to be between Susan Kramer and Tim Farron. While I am tempted by the idea of writing in a ‘press gang Ros Scott for another two years’ option on my ballot paper, at the moment I think I’m going to vote for Susan Kramer.

Having seen the difference in the last couple of years when the Party President wasn’t an MP, I’m not convinced it’s possible to do the job of President – or, at least, the job as I and others would expect to see it done – and be an effective MP at the same time. Susan seems to be running to replace Ros and carry on the work she’s done – both publicly and privately – and that’s what the party needs right now if we can’t have someone in there to really shake things up and give a radically different perspective.

Even with a large chunk of the parliamentary party serving in the Government, there seems to be no shortage of MPs and Lords willing to speak to the media, and the presidency can be so much more than just someone else ready to do the rounds of radio cars and satellite studios. We need someone who’s spending their days away from Cowley Street outside of the M25, not just down the road in Westminster. There are enough people out there willing to speak for the members of the party already, when what we need is someone who’s going to speak to them.