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Why the New Lib Dem Leader Is Convinced His Party Can Become Relevant Again

With Jeremy Corbyn moving Labour further from the centre-ground, newly elected Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron thinks his party can become relevant again. But didn't Clegg already blow it?

by Bo Franklin
18 September 2015, 3:00pm

Tim Farron looking a bit Prime Ministerial (Photo via)

Read: What Would Happen if Jeremy Corbyn Became Prime Minister?

Jeremy Corbyn didn't exactly hit the ground running in his new job. Within his first couple of days as Labour leader he managed to piss off your nan by refusing to sing the national anthem, was called a "nut job" by the Telegraph and denounced for riding a bicycle by the Times. His shadow cabinet haven't been faring much better, either; Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had to apologise for once suggesting that the IRA be honoured for their bombings, and at a recent Parliamentary Labour meeting MP Jess Phillips told Diane Abbott to "fuck off" in a row over feminism.

So what does all this mean for the Lib Dems? They're still reeling from May's election, when they went from a party of government to having just eight MPs in Parliament. But if their newly elected leader gets his way, it won't be long until hysteria around the party is at Cleggmania levels.

Writing in the Guardian ahead of the Lib Dem party conference – where 74-year-old Paddy Ashdown will take to the decks at the #LibDemDisco – new leader Tim Farron says he believes Corbyn's win "potentially changes everything" for his party. Farron is convinced that Labour has opened up the centre ground to "moderate progressives who are opposed to what the Conservatives are doing, but cannot bring themselves to support a party of the hard left".

According to Farron, he's been inundated with calls and messages from panicked Labour MPs, terrified that Corbyn's insistence on having actual principles could destroy the Blairite utopia they've worked so hard to build. Maybe if some of them jump ship, the Lib Dem tally of MPs could hit double figures?

Probably not. John Woodcock, a Labour MP involved in Liz Kendall's campaign – so hardly loony-left – doubted Farron's claims, calling him "slippery and untrustworthy". According to Woodcock, Farron is "the last person my colleagues would confide in if they were distressed about the direction of the Labour party".

Back in 2010, Nick Clegg led a brief resurgence for his party by appearing likeable and – by the standards of most politicians, at least – pretty normal. Then, by teaming up with Cameron, unnecessarily trebling tuition fees and supporting five years of Tory austerity, he almost wiped his party off the map.

Considering he can't even hold a pint of milk without looking deeply worried, Farron probably won't be the phoenix that rises from the ashes of the Liberal Democrats. There's definitely space opening up in Britain's political centre-ground, but are the Lib Dems really big enough these days to fill it?

@bofrankln

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Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon on the 1s and 2s