Liberal Democrats: Can Tim Farron win back voters?

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Can Tim Farron win back the public’s trust? Luke Goodstadt thinks it’s a possibility.

By Luke Goodstadt

It is no secret that the coalition government of 2010-2015 was a political disaster for the Liberal Democrats. For known, but perhaps unfair reasons the Liberal Democrat’s centrist presence in the House of Commons was significantly reduced after the 2015 General Election, moving from having a coach load of MPs, to failing to be able to fill a small mini-bus.

However, after the inevitable resignation of Nick Clegg due to the ‘Lib Dem Reaping’ of May 7th 2015, the Liberal Democrats elected possibly one of the only good, decent and honest MPs left in Parliament, Tim Farron.

Many of you reading this may not know who Tim Farron is; many of you may not even have realised that the Liberal Democrats still existed. However, they do, and they’ve actually been doing a pretty good job, despite the whole ‘not even being able to complete a full football team’ thing.

Tim Farron and his colleagues, however few they are, have effectively opposed the government on their decision to refuse refugees admission into the country. They were the only party to stand united against tax credit cuts (whilst Labour was having a small party squabble and refused to vote against the bill), and they are the only party who seems dedicated to maintaining a healthy and symbiotic relationship with the EU rather than having a disastrous Hard Brexit.

These actions seemed to have resonated with the public. The Liberal Democrats have enjoyed a surge of membership of around 25,000 new members since their horrific General Election result. This may be evidence of an increase in political activism, but does it show that the Liberal Democrats are still viable in the eyes of the general public?

Largely, no. The Liberal Democrats are still seen as the party that betrayed their voters when they abandoned their policy of ‘no tuition fees’ in attempt to join a coalition to restrain the Conservatives. Thus there is still a large degree of trust that has been lost for the Liberal Democrats and most likely won’t be restored for quite some time. This idea is even backed up in the academic sphere with Dr Samantha Wolstencroft, Lecturer of Politics and British Political History at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), stating she would be “surprised if the Liberal Democrats managed to regain the trust of the public within the next twenty years”.

However, contrary to this popular philosophy, recent election results seem to show a swing back to the Liberal Democrats. In the May 2016 Council Elections, the Liberal Democrats gained more seats than any other party in England. In Scotland  the Lib Dems gained seats from the SNP, and, in Manchester, they became the only opposition to Labour on the Manchester City Council. They have had further success in council by-elections, taking seats off Labour, Conservatives and Independents respectively. The Witney by-election also shows how quickly the so-called ‘LibDemFightback’ has taken place. Here the Lib Dems not only managed to move from 4th to 2nd, beating off both Labour and UKIP, but they managed to reduce the Conservative majority from 25,000 to just under 6,000. This not only shows that the Lib Dems are once again respected as a political force, but it proclaims that very fact to the rest of the country who may still hold a little doubt in their heart about British Liberalism.

Certainly, the next big challenge for the Liberal Democrats and the ‘LibDemFightback’ is the Manchester Mayoral Election. It would be an incredible ordeal for Jane Brophy (Liberal Democrat candidate) to attempt to beat Andy Burnham MP (Labour candidate) outright in this election. However, if the Liberal Democrats can hold Labour to a small majority, as well as gain plenty of second preference votes, then the momentum of the Liberal Democrats comeback will continue stronger than ever.

It is clear that a Liberal Democrat resurgence is possible, in fact it is already happening. However the trust that British public have for the Liberal Democrats is still heartbreakingly low, yet they are certainly fighting hard to regain it.

Luke J Goodstadt is currently studying History and Politics. When he is not attending lectures he enjoys cycling, reading and writing.





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