Over the past few months, there has been much coverage and media attention focused on the Labour leadership election; so much, indeed, that the public appears to have forgotten that an election also took place amongst the Liberal Democrats during this time, in which Tim Farron was chosen as the new leader of the party.
At the 2015 general election, members of the Lib Dems, myself included, were horrified by the extent to which the party was defeated, going from 57 MPs to just eight, with many talented and long-serving MPs, including Simon Hughes, Vince Cable and Danny Alexander, losing their seats. This annihilation in the election resulted in Nick Clegg being forced to resign, after having been leader of the party for over seven years.
Consequently, this leadership election was always going to be very different from those which had preceded it. In 1999, 2006 and 2007, the Lib Dems were electing a leader to continue the party’s growth and success at elections; this time, the party needed someone to rebuild it from the ground up, and to resurrect its election success. In July, 56.5% of Lib Dems decided that Tim Farron would be the man to do so.
There has been much doubt from the general public about the future of the Lib Dems, and the ability of Tim Farron to change their fortunes; having watched the party go through the election from hell, I can understand why many people feel this way. The survival of the Lib Dems is certainly not a guarantee; the party must work hard, or risk facing further defeat. Nevertheless, I am optimistic about the future. Tim Farron is a new, charismatic and exciting leader, who will be able to speak to and win over the millions of people who have lost faith in the party.
Since Clegg’s resignation speech, 20,000 people have become members of the party, clearly having decided that liberalism need not die. Over the summer, Lib Dems have had their voices heard at many rallies, including those on voting reform, human rights and the refugee crisis; I was able to attend all of these events, and it is fantastic to see the Lib Dems once again on the streets of Britain, working with other parties and groups to show people what it is the party stands for.
Equally, as someone who stood (sadly, unsuccessfully) in the borough council elections in May, it is amazing to see that since the general election, the Lib Dems have won more council by-elections than any other party.
There is still a place in British politics for the Lib Dems. They must stand firm as the party of the centre ground, now that Labour, under Corbyn, will be veering off to the left, and the Tories, as we have seen since May, are moving to the right; there are millions of people in the UK who aren’t interested in these oppositions of politics, for whom the Lib Dems can still hold an appeal. There are also many issues sidelined by other parties which they can tackle head on, including electoral reform and a reform on drugs policy, as they are the largest political party united on these issues.
The bottom line is very simple. The country needs a fair and just voice in politics, but also a liberal one. That voice has to be the Liberal Democrats.