Norman Lamb or Tim Farron?
Next Wednesday Iâ€™m intending to attend the Hustings for the Liberal Democrat leadership election in London. As in 2007, I go to the event undecided between the two candidates and will listen with interest to what they have to say and how they see the future of the Party.
Paddy Power currently have Tim Farron at 1/10 with Norman Lamb at 5/1 and while for many the choice of Liberal Democrat leader may be as important as the starting line-up for San Marinoâ€™s next international football match, history tells us it may have more relevance.
After the 1970 election in which the then-Liberal Party was reduced to just six seats, it would have been a brave man who would have predicted that in less than four years, the Party would be polling over 19% and more than doubling its seat tally.
The truth is the Liberal Democrats have always been defined by the two main parties in terms of strategy, tactics and positioning. In that aspect, the election of the Labour leader is going to define the Party far more than the election of the Partyâ€™s own leader.
With a Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn, it would be easy but were Liz Kendall to win the Labour leadership election; the Liberal Democrats would face a serious problem. Just as the party struggled with Tony Blair and David Cameron, a leader from another Party who is able to reach beyond that partyâ€™s core vote is always going to be a big problem for all minor parties.
Is Farron at 1/10 buying money? Probably â€“ he starts with the advantage of not having been a Minister in the Coalition Government though as he pointed out in his speech to the Gladstone Club, no one within the party has come up with a convincing credible alternative narrative for the events of 2010 and what else the party could have done after that election. Farron is from the nonconformist northern tradition of the party and while some have criticised his performance on Andrew Neil last Sunday, the re-hashing of how he did or didnâ€™t vote on a Bill nearly a decade ago hasnâ€™t the resonance some might imagine.
Norman Lamb brings both activist knowledge and ministerial experience to the table and has attracted support from among the ranks of the defeated MPs and peers. It would be folly to call him the â€œcontinuity Cleggâ€ candidate and also folly to write him off.
The fact is however the party doesnâ€™t need an experienced and capable ex-Minister to lead it â€“ it now needs a street fighter and rabble rouser. It will be a long time before the Ministerial cars beckon again and for now the priority is to regroup and rebuild and that means looking to regain ground in local by-elections and in the key round of elections in Scotland and Wales next year.
At the present no one is listening and no one cares but that will change when the Conservative Government hits its mid-term (any takers on the date of the first sub-30% Conservative poll rating?) whether as a result of the EU Referendum or events as yet unforeseeable.
Itâ€™s a pity thereâ€™s no market on Lib Dem leadership vote shares â€“ I expect Farron to win but it will be much closer than the current odds suggest. I think Norman Lamb will get at least 40% of the vote â€“ as to whether 5/1 is tempting enough for those who think he can spring a surprise, ask me again on Thursday morning.
Stodge has been a commenter on PB for many years