Liberal future

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Where does the new Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron want to lead his party? The media generally seem to have given his election a very low priority.

That in itself is a measure of the challenge he faces in restoring credibility after almost five years of steady decline.

Those who do still see the Lib Dems as a relevant force will still be pondering what the final destination is. Is it to gain power in another coalition or pact with one of the main parties?

Or is it to restore its reputation for campaigning in communities and so impress the electorate that it gives it a majority mandate?

Only the first of those options seems achievable. History shows, however, the perils of being a junior partner in government. In the 1970s a failing Labour government under James Callaghan called on Liberal leader David Steel (as he then was) to bolster it in a loose pact that lasted just over a year.

During that time Liberal fortunes at the polling stations slumped dramatically. The perception of Liberal Democrat Cabinet ministers since 2010 hanging on to the coat tails of a Conservative-led government masked some of their very real achievements during that period.

The problem still remains, however.

The act of becoming a junior partner show responsibility as well as patriotism. It seems to spell oblivion in terms of public support.

How Mr Farron overcomes this difficulty will be supreme test of leadership. A recurring dilemma in the Lib Dem psyche is whether it is a party of power or a party of protest.

He has spoken of the popularity of liberal (definitely with a small “l”) ideals among voters generally. He now needs to tell them not just where he wants to take them but how he can avoid the pitfalls of the past.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court