Monday, September 26, 2011

Time for Tim Farron to make an unpopular speech

The late Fred Titmus once said of a promising young batsman: "I'd like to see him make a bad fifty."

By which he meant that anyone with a reasonable amount of talent can make runs when he is in form and the wicket is good and the bowling not too formidable. The real test of a professional cricketer is to be able to make runs when your are out of form or the wicket is bad or the bowlers are on top. Think of Paul Collingwood, whose batting often looked ugly but could be invaluable to England.

The same is true of politicians. Anyone can sound good arguing a popular case: the real test is making a speech that a lot of people are going to disagree with.

Which brings us to Tim Farron.

Tim has rapidly become one of the most prominent Liberal Democrat MPs, though the closeness of the result in the last election for the party's President suggests that he would not have won if Susan Kramer had organised any sort of campaign.

He is clearly a formidable campaigner, having turned Westmorland and Lonsdale into what looked very like a safe Liberal Democrat seat until the Boundary Commission got hold of it. He is young and personable, and he has other attributes that may be useful to someone standing for the leadership of the party in the future. He is Northern, did not go to public school and has not held ministerial office under the Coalition.

So my feeling is that we should take Tim Farron very seriously.

My impression of Tim is that he is very good at saying things people agree with. So in Cumbria he is against second homes and in favour of farming subsidies and Kendal mint cake.

And he is just as good at convincing party audiences that he is on their side too. Take the opening of his speech to the Birmingham Conference last week:
So, well done - you all got past security clearance! 
Incidentally I’m very grateful to the police, they’ve now provided me with all the detailed personal information on party members that I need in order to conduct a Stalinist purge. 
Basically anyone who actually passed security clearance without sign of being a subversive will be erased.
I am sure that this went down well in the hall, got him a laugh early on and made the audience feel he was in sympathy with them.

But hold on. The accreditation row at Birmingham was a serious issue. And Tim Farron is the President of the party.

As I see it there are two lines you can take on the accreditation row.

You can say that this level of security is something we will have to live with in future, particularly if we are in government, and that the Federal Conference Committee (FCC) did an honourable job in making that security as low key as it could.

If you take this view, then you would be looking to the President to stand should to shoulder with FCC and support its decisions.

Or you can take the view (as I do) that it was an outrage. There is no provision in the Liberal Democrats' constitution for the central party to tell constituencies who they can and can't send as representatives to federal conferences.

If you take this view, then you would be looking to the President, as the ultimate defender of members' rights, to speak up - preferably well before the conference.

Either way, a few jokes on the subject really should not satisfy anyone.

Now that Tim Farron is being spoken of as a possible party leader, he needs to risk the odd unpopular speech. Someone in that class cannot always be telling people what they want to hear. Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice


Andrew said...

Great piece Jonathan. I liked Farron's speech to be honest, but I understand your meaning; he's a man whose main weapons are populism and humour. They usually work. But on reflection I agree with you in respect to the accreditation debate - the president really should have avoided the easy laughs and spoken out - publicly - a long time before conference.

Liberal Neil said...

My primary reason for campaigning for Tim in the Presidential election was because, as well as the attributes you set out above, I thought we needed a President who would cheer us up during a difficult few years.

In that respect I have no problem at all with him making light of a serious issue as he did about accreditation. Our ability to not take ourselves too seriously is one of our strengths, and Tim taps into that very well.

On your broader point, yes, if Tim has serious ambitions he will have start to show a more serious side as time goes on. But at the moment he is still in year one of his most senior role so far. I think he has time to enjoy that for a bit longer before getting too serious.

Jennie Rigg said...

Of course, joking about the accreditation issue when lots of people had very raw wounds, and he wasn't the one person who voted against it, could be seen as the powerful rubbing it in the face of those who just lost, if you were feeling uncharitable.

Mark said...

Farron would make an excellent Deputy Prime Minister to Ed Milliband.

Flora, Hampshire said...

Local parties elect voting representatives, but any member of the Lib Dems can attend conference, they are not sent by their local party!
Flora, Hampshire