Lynne Featherstone writes…Why I’m backing Norman Lamb for leader

Norman Lamb Lynne FeatherstoneNot for the first time in the history of the party, the Lib Dems are faced with adversity – after the crushing loss of a huge number of our dedicated and hardworking colleagues. But we are a party of survivors – and it has been incredible to see the surge of support for the party in the last two weeks. Over 13,000 people have signed up to the party since the general election. These new members have joined because they see the need for a liberal voice in our country.

I know what it is like to be the only Lib Dem in the Home Office – with Conservatives as your coalition partners and Theresa May as your Secretary of State. And you want to do liberal things – that are not in the coalition agreement!

What I am saying is that doing liberal things in a coalition government with coalition partners who are more often than not diametrically opposed is a huge challenge. Having got our hands on the levers of power – could we use that power liberally?

Norman Lamb could and did!

Norman is a politician of conviction and integrity – like me, he is not a career politician. He got into politics to campaign and to fight for the things that he believes in – truly liberal policies.

In the most challenging of circumstances, he campaigned in government to bring mental health — so long the poor relation to physical health — to the forefront of the political debate, achieving parity of waiting times and esteem for the first time. This is an incredible achievement.

I am worried that after the crushing defeat we’ve experienced we will take the easy option and retreat into our comfort zone. I don’t want to spend the next few years looking inwards and forgetting that we have a duty to those that look to us to be their mouthpiece – to be that liberal voice in politics that suddenly people have realised is so valuable. Nick’s fantastic and moving resignation speech reminded us all of that.

That is why we have so many new members and the number is still rising!

The challenge is urgent and we must reach out – both to our members, new and old, and to liberals across the country – whether they currently identify as Liberal Democrats or not.

We need to find a clear voice and vision for the future – to speak loudly and proudly about our liberalism and we need a leader with the courage to do this.

That is why I am wholeheartedly backing Norman to be our leader – more than that, I am chairing his campaign.

Norman is a do-er. He will warm us all up again, make us proud of what we have achieved in coalition and reach inside and outside the party to help us walk tall again.

We have two great candidates – but for me – the answer is Norman.

* Lynne Featherstone was the MP for Hornsey and Wood Green from 2005 to 2015, and served as a minister in both the Home Office and Department for International Development. She is now a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and blogs at

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  • Peter Sigrist 22nd May '15 - 2:21pm

    I’m looking forward to a strong campaign from both candidates. Lynne, this is an inspiring reminder of what the LibDems have done in recent history. I believe you have a wider duty, not mentioned here. As well as having “a duty to those that look to us to be their mouthpiece”, you have a duty to all those people in Britain who passionately believe in the tolerant, fair society we have but have never voted Liberal Democrat. Remember they are there too, just waiting to be touched by the right arguments, well-formulated and strongly put. I’m a newbie, so I know what I’m talking about!

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd May '15 - 2:33pm

    I’m really delighted to see this. Thanks Lynne.

    I know I have got a bit of a right leaning reputation, but I want to do more for the poorest in our country and also increased diversity measures and I think Lamb is the best to achieve this.

  • Yep, Norman gets my vote. Great post and, I agree, solid reminder of some of the achievements of the Lib Dems over the last five years.

  • According to this – – Norman Lamb supports legalising fox hunting, is this correct?

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd May '15 - 2:51pm

    Jack, Lamb has said he would vote to keep the law as it is.

  • His name is on that list, though…

  • Further supported by this list…

  • I’m a huge fan of Norman. However this article kind of shows why I’m not choosing him. Yes he was a fab Minister and I would prefer him to be our DPM rather than Farron. But we don’t need a DPM – we need someone to save the party after we have been nearly completely wiped out. We are decades away from power – we need to rebuild. That means a radical change with less focus on compromise.

    On the other hand, Tim needs to ensure he continues to trumpet our achievements in Govt. Which, to be fair, he usually does.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd May '15 - 3:13pm

    Wayne, he has been telling people over the past few days on Twitter that his position is to keep the law as it is. 🙂

    I don’t have time to be a full time advocate for Norman Lamb, but I switched Question Time off after about two minutes last night as soon as I saw Tim cheer mass immigration and the crowd cheer it back. He would be held in contempt by a lot of voters and this combined with his other policies means he lacks gravitas. Although, he has done some very brave things, so I still like him.

    Best regards

  • A pro-hunting stance during past voting would be a dealbreaker for me, sadly. It’s a lot more clear cut, it seems, than Tim’s patchy record on equality – which he addressed quite well during his recent interview with Pink News.

    I’d welcome a link where Norman discusses his thinking in that regard in more detail, if one were available. Haven’t been able to track such down online.

  • @wayne simmons and Jack

    Tim is also in a similar position on this:

    But it is important we remember this – people can change their minds. I won’t let be what someone once said/thought as being the key part of how they feel about an issue now. We should welcome that they have been changed on this issue.

  • I love this word “Gravitas”. What does it mean, or is it an excuse for longevity and experience, in which case I have “gravitas”, well I think so, thousands would not!!!, especially my wife !!! With respect Eddie we we need some flair, leadership and the ability to come across and be different. We need someone who can lead at 2 or 3 elections, it could be a 15 year haul, over that length of time is Norman the man?
    It seems to me that some just wish the situation was as it was pre -election. We have moved on. In the end it is about image and the image of change and difference. We have to start by seeing off The Greens, not an easy task, but Norman Lamb does not seem that person, we have to be a bit distinctive and passionate in the Referendum debate, again he does not seem that person, we need someone to drag us out of the gutter in the northern, Midland, Welsh and Scottish cities, We need someone who stayed firm in the Tuition Fees debate. Again Norman does not fit the bill. Norman would be nice and appears consensus to the public, but we need flair, a bit of excitement the ability to communicate in those areas and to identify with the two thirds of our vote that we have lost. Norman, Lynne and the other Cabinet ministers were part of the image that cost us much of that support.

  • Angela Davies 22nd May '15 - 4:49pm

    I would like a leader who can inspire. Gravitas is great in some areas and much as we need it right now we are in greater need of another Paddy. That man had humour and gravitas in spades and he brought the party from to zilch to 57 MPs.
    So both candidates you have a mentor in the Lords. Listen to him and you will do well.

  • Why was my comment about Lynne and Norman both being tuition fee pledge breakers deleted? It’s a fact. The censorship is getting worse.

  • Both candidates have much to do to persuade that reach out to the wider public. My impression is Tim Farron could be, assuming his religion does not intrude too much, a kind of ‘feel good’ leader for many within the Party, but doubtful of his image more widely. Norman Lamb’s record and experience as a minister lend an authority that Tim Farron just does not have, however I am concerned he could be insufficiently distinctive.

    Tim Farron could be the candidate if, realistically, we are hoping to improve our number of MP to something like 12 to 16.

  • Ruth Bright 22nd May '15 - 5:32pm

    “Achieving parity of waiting times”. Better run that through the fact checker.

  • Helen Quenet 22nd May '15 - 6:23pm

    Wayne, I had an exchange with Norman on Twitter this week. He would NOT vote for the repeal of the hunting. It was a deal breaker for me too 🙂

  • @theakes

    Agree 100% with what you say there.

    I also think the party has to review the targeting strategy.. It was understandable while we had all those seats to defend, but unfortunately we abandoned the electorate completely almost everywhere else. Our only route back is to rebuild in local government. Obviously we cannot possibly fight properly in every council ward, but I would be asking every local council area to identify 2 or 3 gains they could make next May, in addition to holding existing seats, even if those gains are not in target constituencies. Most of those gains would be in seats we held in 2010. That review needs to happen quickly because we know that no gains will be made by campaigns starting next March. But gains in 2016 in local elections and Holyrood would give the whole Party a feelgood factor, and is definitely achievable if we can start to shed the dead weight of the broken pledge and the coalition

  • Helen, thanks for that. I did notice something to that effect.

    Do you know what changed his thinking on the issue?

  • Steve Davenport 22nd May '15 - 8:34pm

    Good luck with the campaign – I’m supporting Tim Farron but Norman Lamb should be proud of his record in government whatever the outcome. Both will clearly be essential to rebuilding the Lib Dems.

  • Peter Hayes 22nd May '15 - 9:26pm

    I really am confused, Tim might have the media presence but so did/do Blair and Farage and Clegg. Norman and other lost MPs did great things nationally and locally but do not have the public profile. We need to rebuild from the ground up. I see my local ex-MP Martin Horwood is still involved in local planning campaigns and that is the way to keep the candidates profile high for local elections and the next GE.

  • I campaigned hard for Lynne at the last general election and I am very sorry she did not get in.
    However from this article, and from the campaigns by the leadership candidates so far – and these are early days – I do not get a sense of what they want to change about the Lib Dems to make us a force again in the future. The general election was devastating for the Liberal Democrats and winning back the trust of those who used to vote for us – let alone new voters – will be an enormous task.

  • Linda Forbes 22nd May '15 - 10:15pm

    Sad to say that neither of the candidates inspire me to vote for them. With only eight MPs to chose from our scope for identifying one who can rebuild both the party and the public’s faith in liberal democracy was always limited. I would, however, have liked to see John Pugh put his name forward. This doesn’t seem likely though.

  • I am disappointed with this article, as i would be with ‘Why I am voting for Tim’. The essence of such articles, unfortunately, seems to be much more about the author than the subject. Why not just leave it to the parties themselves to try to convince the people with a vote?

  • Keith Sharp 23rd May '15 - 8:11am

    Much as I respect Lynne, I will be supporting Tim Farron for Leader. For four difficult coalition years as Party President, he cut a distinctive position as supporting the principal thrust of our Coalition, without being slavishly and rigidly on-message. While a loyal senior member, he showed independent judgement and so avoided association with some of the politically-inept decisions (eg cutting the top tax rate to 45%) we got ourselves stuck with. I think it will help us go forward and re-group to have a leader who is not directly linked to the Coalition.

    None of this is to speak ill of Norman Lamb and I totally take Lynne’s points about decency and integrity. But as Nick’s parliamentary aid in the first half of the Coalition, he must have been part of some deeply-damaging decisions that we took in those early times. We need principle and shrewd political judgement and positioning (what Tim has called ‘re-branding) in the difficult years ahead.

  • Toby Fenwick 23rd May '15 - 8:23am

    Well said Keith Sharpe.

  • @Keith Sharp for someone of Tim’s obvious talent to avoid taking a ministerial position, at which he would have excelled, strikes me as strange.

    What reasons did he have for this I wonder?

  • If Lynne Featherstone was still an MP then I would be encouraging her to stand for the leadership.

    However, this article seems to show that she has not yet taken on board what happened in the general election, nor indeed what happened outside the world of ministers and Westminster over the last five years.

    We are not going to rebuild the party by looking back at anyone’s experience of being a minister between 2010 and 2015. Well over 90% of voters have shown exactly what they thought about all that and we were all but wiped off the map. By 2020 the experience of this last five years will impress voters even less.

    The last thing we need from a new leader is “more of the same”.

    Norman Lamb was keen to tell Andrew Neil on The Sunday Politics that he is not the “continuity candidate” but his supporters seem to be implying that he is precisely that.

  • No one could doubt the Norman Lamb described by Lynne. What’s not to like? Unfortunately he voted for something he had signed a pledge not to vote for. I cannot forget that. Our political opponents won’t allow people to forget it either.

  • brianD: Opponents will be more likely to keep off the topic as the issue will have moved on to concerns about funding of the system. It is more likely that there will be disagreement whether the country can afford to give so many the free university education that was pledged.

  • Stephen Hesketh 23rd May '15 - 2:56pm

    JohnTilley 23rd May ’15 – 8:37am
    Keith Sharp 23rd May ’15 – 8:11am

    I think these posts neatly sum it up.

    As his aide, Norman was very close to Nick Clegg and the 2010-15 policy and strategy. Whilst the policy of equidistance combined right of centre economics proved to only to represent a minority interest group within the party, it was even less popular with our traditional supporters.

    Unlike Labour we do not need to go off and contemplate our navels to decide what we stand for.

    It is, and always should have been very clear what Liberal Democrats stood for. Even in coalition.

    Sadly Nick Clegg and his inner circle took us off down a different path. No wonder voters ended up saying they didn’t know what we stood for.

    I am pretty sure that few would say that in Westmoreland and Lonsdale!

    I have great respect for the work undertaken by Lynne and Norman as ministers but that does not mean they have the correct vision or qualities to lead us out of this hole which was mainly dug right at the start of the coalition when Norman was Nick Clegg’s aide.

    We get just one bite at bouncing back quickly. Many media commentators have already written us off. Only one of the leadership candidates lines up virtually every required quality at this pivotal moment in the history of our movement. And he isn’t an MP in Norfolk. Even with the brilliant Lynne Featherstone at his side.

  • @Stephen H I don’t think it wise to assume what opponents are likely to do. Breaking a signed pledge is placing political expediency before personal honour. Sorry

  • Stephen Hesketh 23rd May '15 - 8:50pm

    brianD 23rd May ’15 – 7:40pm
    “@Stephen H I don’t think it wise to assume what opponents are likely to do. Breaking a signed pledge is placing political expediency before personal honour. Sorry”

    Brian, “Breaking a signed pledge is placing political expediency before personal honour.” Yes I AGREE. Had I been an MP I would have been along side Tim Farron, John Pugh and others. A pledge is a pledge and, as Tim Farron has stated, very different to a manifesto commitment – especially when you didn’t actually win the election.

    Regarding what Labourites do next, and I assume it is my navel gazing comment that you object to, having worked with some genuine socialists in my time, I truly find it sad that Labour has not had the courage of its convictions and remained true to Democratic Socialism. I say that as a Liberal Democrat who believes that no matter how big the economic cake is, it should be shared fairly.

    I hope we can agree that politicians of all parties owe it to their party workers, voters, the body politic and perhaps most importantly to a healthy democracy, that they say what they mean and mean what they say.

  • Many people still don’t seem to get the concept that the pledge “I promise to vote against X” could have been about ANYTHING and breaking it would have been incredibly damaging for the Leader (Nick Clegg) and hence the whole party.

    The fact that we happened to break a pledge on tuition fees just gave us the added “bonus” of losing a whole generation of young, intelligent voters who were our natural supporters on so many other issues.

    The issue of the pledge will only go away if we elect Tim Farron as leader (or one of the other 3 pledge-keepers, but they have all swung behind Farron)… Electing Norman Lamb, for all his sterling qualities as adumbrated by Lynne Featherstone, would just be writing another suicide note….

  • For those many graduates who do not get to earn high salaries, who in the end do not have to pay anything or not very much, has the ‘pledge’ been broken for them as well?

    I do understand that there will be a number of hedge fund managers, lawyers and financiers and those who empathise with their hardship who having cause to feel sore about the tuition fees system will feel they are owed more than an apology.

  • A well written article but, in the end, one that sums up why I won’t be voting for Norman Lamb. Far too many people, including Norman and Lynn, clearly still need to come to terms with what happened to our party over the last 5 years and at the general election.

    The party needs radical change and it needs it quickly. We cannot afford to wait whilst some of our MPs and former MPs get past the denial stage of our recent divorce from the electorate.

  • Richard Underhill 24th May '15 - 3:42pm

    We know what we stand for, it is in the preamble to the constitution.
    Every word was debated in detail at the time.
    It has stood the test of time.

    Our Unique Selling Point of being the only democratic party is attracting competitors, which is good, but we must not neglect it. It is a key component of why we have volunteers.

  • Whilst we suffered significant losses at the last election, we should never regret going into government and actually realising some our policies become law. Raising the threshold at which people start to pay tax, giving couples greater flexibility over their maternity / paternity leave, the pupil premium, giving homosexual couples the right to marry those that they love, extra funding for those who suffer with mental health issues. These are things to be proud of irrespective of the election result. For the first time in years we actually had the chance to improve people’s lives and we did.

    Neither Farron or Lamb have shied away from our record in government and both will make good leaders. Whilst Farron has charisma and a flair for oratory, Lamb has a solid record in government and it is this that we need to build upon. There is no point in being a political party if we do not wish to seek to govern is some respect. Lamb is proud of his record and his determined to build upon his achievements whilst out of office. He should lead the party and allow Farron to play a highly prominent role championing the liberal cause.

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th May '15 - 7:53pm

    Phil Rimmer 24th May ’15 – 11:59am
    Richard Underhill 24th May ’15 – 3:42pm

    Great posts!

    Alex Lewis 24th May ’15 – 4:03pm

    Alex, it won’t have escaped your notice but our offering has just been comprehensively rejected by the electorate. However competent, Norman and our other ministers ‘solid record’ is very unlikely to feature much in our recovery.

    Hopefully the positive things achieved will be increasingly recognised though the parliament, – along with the Tories themselves making it all too clear what we prevented them doing in 2010-15.

    I would however suggest that a very close aide to Nick Clegg might not be the best person to capitalise on any of this.

    Tim Farron clearly does have the greater “charisma and a flair for oratory”. This will be vital in rebuilding both the party and our wider support over the coming months and years.

    Due to the utter collapse in our popular vote – brought about in very large measure by the strategy of the Clegg team- we must now present a very different and distinctly mainstream Liberal Democrat message to the electorate. This is at the very heart of Tim’s strategy and appeal. And, for all his success with mental health, this just isn’t part of a credible Lamb position. Tim on the other hand has consistently adhered to the mainstream philosophy and values of the party.

    For anyone wishing us to win back a respectable proportion of the ground lost at the last election, irrespective of them being on the economic left, centre or right of the party, there is only realistic candidate for leader – and sorry Alex, but it isn’t Norman.

  • Alex Lewis
    Have you actually taken on board the scale of what has happened to our party?

    More than half of our candidates in the general election lost their deposit. They were unable to persuade even 5% of those who voted that your view of thebCoalition years had any merit.

    Only around 100 of our candidates achieved better than 4th place.
    Do you really think the way to rebuild the party is to opt for more of the same ?

  • @Martin
    Those low earning graduates you speak of will still have a huge and growing debt hanging over them that will hamper their efforts to get on the housing ladder. Personally if I got £40k plus into debt and never even earned enough to pay it off I would consider it a big waste of money..

    We had a policy: It was the graduate tax, and it was fair and workable. Because everyone would have paid the graduate tax until they retired, the repayment rate would have been much less. 9% just in the years when you have children and really need the money is quite crippling.

    This year I scanned the Manifesto for mention of Higher Education in vain! We are just too ashamed to talk about it, apparently

  • @Andrew. When is a debt not a debt? When its not required to be repaid.

  • Stephen Hesketh and John Tilley

    I’m fully aware that the electorate rejected us in most constituencies and that many candidates lost their deposits. A healthy democratic system requires that varied candidates and arguments are put forward to the people so they may then make their decision. On this occasion liberalism was largely rejected, but this doesn’t mean we should change our party’s stance on most issues if we do not agree with such a change.

    A party should not exist purely to win votes. A party should exist to offer the people a program of government that they can choose at an election. If we throw off our liberal clothes in the pursuit of votes we will be lying to ourselves and lying to the people. Should we have fought the European elections on a cynical anti-European ticket just because it would win us more votes? Of course not. If “more of the same” is standing up for a proud record in government and a continued commitment to liberal values then I certainly want more of the same and I’m not ashamed to say it.

  • Stephen Hesketh 25th May '15 - 9:29pm

    Alex Lewis 25th May ’15 – 10:20am
    “Stephen Hesketh and John Tilley – I’m fully aware that the electorate rejected us in most constituencies and that many candidates lost their deposits. A healthy democratic system requires that varied candidates and arguments are put forward to the people so they may then make their decision. On this occasion liberalism was largely rejected, but this doesn’t mean we should change our party’s stance on most issues if we do not agree with such a change. ”

    Alex, the electorate have just rejected something but whatever we wish to call it, it certainly wasn’t clearly presented mainstream British (as opposed to continental) Liberalism/Liberal Democracy.

    Of the two candidates, Tim Farron is the more likely to support the traditional philosophy, values and policies of the party. Unless he completely shifts his position, Norman Lamb’s offering will be something more closely approximating to Cleggism of which he was a well known collaborating architect.

    I totally reject popularism and have publically argued for Liberal value-based and common ground policies rather than those of the non-descript centre ground which only a minority in the country let alone in the party find appealing.

    Given the scale of our defeat, we simply can not afford to offer anything other than mainstream Liberalism. Please no more flights of fancy!

  • TCO,
    In today’s mortgage world the lenders have to look at the ability to pay in the future… So undoubtedly they will look at the student loan as a debt

    I agree that the fact that in many cases the loan will never be repaid did mean that the new system was always unsustainable, and I predict it will be replaced by something much worse very soon..

  • @Andrew but if c50% of applicants have this debt, at a conservative estimate, and they ar elikely to be proportionately higher as they will be on average higher earners, the lenders will “price in” this additional debt to their lending.

  • well, what I am doing is comparing today’s graduates with previous generations… house price inflation has already made it almost impossible to get on the housing ladder without inheritance, and this just makes it worse.

    Lenders are now very constrained by financial regulations and I doubt if it is a big comfort to graduates to know that most other graduates are in similar difficulties. Since the full £9000 fees are only just filtering through, we still don’t know the scale of the problem, but you can bet we will get the blame for it!

  • Stephen Hesketh,

    I’m not entirely sure that Farron can be associated with “maintstream liberalism” per se. Liberalism can take on two strands, social and economic. The former assumes that people should be able to conduct their private affairs without the constraint of the state so long as such conduct does not harm society, whilst economic liberalism assumes that private business should be free of state manipulation and regulation.

    The history of our party also has two “mainstream” elements. The liberal ideology goes back years and encapsulates both economic whiggery and social liberalism. Whereas the Social Democrat aspect involves the social liberalism pushed through by the likes of Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams, it also promotes a high degree of state involvement that has deeper roots in the Labour movement. “Cleggism”, as you put it, is both more socially and economically liberal than the social democrat policies promoted when the party was led by Charles Kennedy.

    The policies that I listed in my earlier comment were all distinctly liberal. Even the increase to tuition fees (which most of us were opposed to) was a liberal measure as it asked students to pay for their higher education as opposed to the state. The higher level of debt may be unfair on face value, but we must recognise that the amount of debt is not the issue but rather the rate at which you pay it back. I know that my student debt is about a third of those who are entering university now, but I also know that they will pay back far less per month than I currently do. I would much prefer tuition fees to be lower, we all do, but if they had to be increased we did well to ensure that people could manage this debt fairly.

    My worry with Farron is that he is less liberal than Lamb. Whilst he has apologised for his abstension on the third reading of the marriage bill, it was only done in hindsight and poses some slight concerns about how liberal he actually is. The choice is pretty clear. If we want “mainstream liberalism” then we should look no further than Clegg and Lamb. If we want mainstream social democratic policies then we should choose Farron.

  • formerconstituent 2nd Jun '15 - 10:16am


    The problem is not that you need warming up. The problem is that you entered a disastrous coalition with the Tories. Norman was an enthusiastic coalitioner. How can he help your party learn the lessons?

    The very last thing you need is a continuity candidate.

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