Kramer versus Farron: what sort of President does the party want?

Party members are unusually lucky with the current contest for President of the Liberal Democrats. It is rare for there to be two credible, high-profile candidates standing at the same time but this time there is a real choice between two such people.

Some differences between Susan Kramer and Tim Farron were obvious from the start of the campaign and are swaying some voters, depending on their views on matters such as how important (or not) it is for one of the party’s most prominent posts to be held by a woman, whether an MP has enough time to do the job, whether a current MP from outside London or an ex-MP from London is more outside the Westminster bubble and so on.

However, two further differences between the candidates have come out clearly during the campaign. First, there has been a touch of political difference between the two. Contrast Tim Farron’s oft-repeated joke about how two women made him a Liberal – his mother and Margaret Thatcher – with Susan Kramer’s answer when quizzed about her political by Liberal Vision: “I’m quite comfortable being seen as an Orange Book liberal”. It would be wrong to exaggerate the difference here for, as Susan herself said earlier in the interview, “The notion of splits is quite exaggerated. What the media describe as orange-bookers and the left, in practice have a thin piece of paper between them on a range of policies. Part of the reason for that is the strength of the social justice strand in our thinking, alongside our traditional liberal strand. Most people who join the party try to find some balance or common ground between the two.”

Susan Kramer and Tim FarronThe big difference that has emerged is in Tim Farron and Susan Kramer’s view of the job of Party President (a question on which we surveyed party members in September). Susan’s campaign has placed a heavy emphasis on listening – using both her allocated all-member emails to promote a survey asking members for their views and deploying phrases such as “holding the ring” to describe how she sees the role fitting with the different parts of the party. For Tim listening to members has got a mention too, but his emphasis has been on presenting the party’s case. In a recent interview in Liberal Democrat News, Susan started her answer on how she saw the role as “Very much being a voice for the grass roots of the party” while Tim talked first about “presenting a distinctively Liberal Democrat case”.

A Kramer Presidency would be primarily about getting the views of Liberal Democrat members heard within the party; a Farron Presidency would be primarily about getting the views of Liberal Democrats heard by the outside world. Both are admirable aims and either would, I am sure, do some of the other. But there is a genuine difference of focus here.

Both Susan Kramer and Tim Farron have answered in detail ten questions I posted to them, and their answers have been published in full today on Lib Dem Voice (see Susan Kramer’s answers and Tim Farron’s answers). Their answers reinforce the point that the two would go about the job in different ways.

They share much common ground, for example both supporting the party having a long-term commitment to the abolition of tuition fees, neither showing much enthusiasm for full blooded implementation of the rest of the Bones Commission’s recommendations and both wanting to take a key leadership role on addressing the low proportion of Liberal Democrat councillors who are female.

However through the answers Tim consistently more forcefully presents his own view whilst Susan stresses the importance of listening to others. So on the example of whether the rules for party internal elections should be relaxed to allow more campaigning both respond warmly, but it is Tim who strongly agrees while Susan emphasises she wants to talk to candidates and voters (party members) first before deciding.

Whatever view you take on the role of the Presidency, the fact that Tim and Susan are laying out such different approaches is very welcome – it means the choice we have in the election is a meaningful choice between two people, both of whom would do an excellent job but each of whom would do a different job from the other.

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18 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Nov '10 - 9:49am

    “A Kramer Presidency would be primarily about getting the views of Liberal Democrat members heard within the party”

    The big questions are whether views ‘heard’ are then ‘transmitted/binned’ and then ‘taken up/ignored’. 🙂

  • Montse Medina 2nd Nov '10 - 9:54am

    The Liberal Democrat party is a big family with many branches, we have the activists, the councillors at the Counties, Unitaries, Boroughs, Districts, inner cities, and countryside; the parliamentarians at Westminster, Brussels and Edinburgh, the Assembly members in London and Cardiff; the many organisations within the party such as Women Lib Dems, Agents and Organisers, Green Lib Dems…
    The party needs a link between all its parts to make sure all views are listened and taken on account, that everybody knows what is happening and why. At this particular moment in time for us we need somebody prepared to be the connexion between the different views and make sure that every Liberal Democrat understands and supports what the party is doing. We already have many voices to tell the world what we stand for, what we need is to make sure that those voices speak for all of us. That is what Susan is promising to do and that is why I am supporting her.

  • To be honest Susan is been quite uninspiring in this campaign – I thought she got off well at Conference and since then she has lost more and more ground to Tim. Tim has put out a really positive message and run a good campaign in the last few weeks – everyone I talk to are really impressed by his campaign and especially his e-campaigning.

    I nominated Susan and voted for Tim! Good luck Tim

    I do feel it’s #timefortim

  • “The big questions are whether views ‘heard’ are then ‘transmitted/binned’ and then ‘taken up/ignored’.”

    You seem to be implying an orange booker who thinks the Party should “reach out into the City and the world of Finance” might be indulging in the type of Blairite public relations spin about listening to the views of others.

    A very cynical attitude after these many months of coalition harmony. 🙂

  • Ben Johnson 2nd Nov '10 - 12:53pm

    I think Tim Farron is angling for a role already filled by Simon Hughes: A media-friendly critical friend of the coalition.

    Susan Kramer wants the president to do something totally vacant at the moment – a real discussion with the membership about where the coalition is heading. I think this is a much more important role given that nobody is doing that at the moment (apart from the weekly emails from coalition ministers that I seem to get!)

  • Paul Butters 2nd Nov '10 - 1:25pm

    Tim wants to be the voice of the grassroots and the person who supports Simon and lays out a distinctive Lib Dem message. I think that would be a great team to be honest both on the liberal wing of the party acting as a balence. What we don’t need is another orange booker in a position of influence.

    But what happens if Simon gets a government job in May? Media is soo much better than Susan in the media and what the party needs right now

  • Paul Butters 2nd Nov '10 - 1:29pm

    Meant to say Tim’s media performances are….so much better…oops!

  • Henry Cleese 2nd Nov '10 - 2:33pm

    I don’t see how Tim can speak on behalf of this member – on simple moral issues Tim has chosen time and time again to vote and speak with his evangelical faith rather than a liberal voice. He is, naturally, allowed his opinion. And people may vote for him as an MP or as an internal candidate if they so wish.

    But it does stick in the craw when he prenteds to be a liberal everyman,

  • Patrick Smith 2nd Nov '10 - 9:01pm

    The closer and informed link with `grassroots’ Members and `Activists’ is what is required from our new President ,as the `Coalition Agreement’ was the springboard for providing the Country with a new style of leadership and national governance from our Liberal Democrat Party has to be reviewed over the next 5 years.

    It is also necessary for the new President to do the mileage to all corners of the UK and compare and contrast Regional Party opinion vis `Westminster Bubble’.

    New membership and donations also are required to `up the anti’ to broaden the media message on all progressive L/D campaigns on `Fair Votes’ and cleaning up politics with new constitutional reform and the new steps being taken on reducing the tax burden for the worst off families and the new `Pupil Premium’.

  • At this rate I’ll be abstaining through being unable to make up my mind! Cue Lib Dem fencesitting jokes.

    Seriously, we are incredibly lucky to have such a high grade contest.

  • Cllr. Nigel Jones 2nd Nov '10 - 9:36pm

    In communications with fellow members in my area, recently, I have been reminded that those who are not active in the national party know something of Susan but say they do not know Tim. Perhaps then the ‘big difference’ referred to by Mark Pack goes as follows:
    Tim is very high profile within the party (e.g. at conferences) suggesting that he needs to increase his profile for those outside the party. Susan, however, became quite prominent in the media and hence outside the party, so she feels the need to improve communications within the party.
    We need both of course.

  • When everyone was hiding, Susan was the only Lib Dem representative that appeared on tv after the election. She defended the LD’s decision to go into the coalition, something all our MPs at the time weren’t prepared to do. Of course, by then Susan was no longer an MP so she had nothing to lose, nonetheless it took some balls to keep appearing considering she herself had just lost.

    I like Tim Farron. But I don’t see the point of him being President. Won’t he just do what Simon Hughes is currently already doing? Also, he is already a Member of Parliament and I imagine that means he is incredibly busy. Susan is claiming she will be doing this full time, I can’t imagine that Tim would even be capable of devoting half of his time.

    Anyway, I voted for Susan. But I like both candidates. Although to be honest, I’m not sure I’m overly bothered who wins anyway. If I didn’t visit this site, I wouldn’t even have heard of Ros Scott.

  • Patrick Smith 3rd Nov '10 - 6:05pm

    I imagine that there many Susan Kramer supporters who recognised how hard she worked as the L/D Mayoralty candidate.She is a formidable adversary for TV and media pundits to the gold standard of Paxo on `News Night’.

    I am of the belief that a woman successor to the role of President is no bad thing.

    I supported and voted for Ros Scott and she has undoubtedly done a really good job in reaching out to `Activists’ and marshalling feedback.

  • sue morrell 3rd Nov '10 - 10:41pm

    I have voted for Susan primarily because she seems to be determined to improve communications between the grassroots membership and the national party, something that has been woefully lacking. I would hope that she will have the nous to challenge and get some change for local parties, especially when they are having problems with certain members..the national party seems to want to brush problems under the carpet instead of addressing them properly. The number of stories i hear about individual members who are not adequately disciplined seems to grow and grow. The national party is far too remote for my liking – this needs to change and i hope Susan can help to do just that.

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