The attacks on Tim Farron need to stop – Vince Cable should know better

Tim Farron Social Liberal Forum conference Jul 19 2014 Photo by Paul WalterNot even a charming account of his Friday dance class as reported by Buzzfeed’s Emily Ashton can assuage my annoyance with Vince Cable this morning. I have to say that he is an unusual candidate for my ire. His work rate of good, decent, liberal stuff in this parliament from stopping the Tories allowing employers to hire and fire people at will to strengthening consumer rights, tackling payday lenders and bringing in shared parental leave has been excellent. His economic wisdom and willingness to call out the Tories on their silly immigration targets has been much appreciated, as has his honesty about the realities of being in coalition with the Tories.

But he’s been the target of enough critical press briefings over the past five years to be aware of how destructive they can be. The fact that he’s prepared to put his name to trashing Tim Farron’s reputation and prospects doesn’t make it that much better. Speaking about the interview in which Farron was reported as saying that he’d give 2/10 for our handling of some aspects of the coalition (which is so totally out of character for Tim that I doubt its accuracy), Vince said:

“It wasn’t at all helpful,” Cable says bluntly. “I mean, he’s a very good campaigning MP, but he’s never been in government and has never had to make difficult decisions and I think his credibility isn’t great. You know, he’s an entertaining speaker and has a bit of a fan club. But I suspect he would not be seen as a very credible leader, at least now. Maybe in five, 10 years’ time, things are different.”

Credible politicians must be more consensual than extreme if they want to get things done, Cable suggests. He says pointedly: “The closer we get to an election and the more uncertain it seems, the more people will want people who are seen to be competent and reliable.”

You have to be fairly competent and reliable to turn a majority of 200 ish to 12000, and having a senior figure who has such campaigning energy is no bad thing. Tim’s four years as President in which he was widely praised for his interaction with party members, did much to keep people on board. Had he not been so energetic in discussing the issues honestly with people, we would as a party be in a  much worse condition.

Vince’s attack comes just days after Paddy Ashdown questioned Tim’s judgement publicly. I’m not sure quite how this fits in with “on message in volume over time”. What our people should be talking about is our record in government and what we offer in the future, not trashing each other. Vince would do well to remember that Tim has exactly as much ministerial experience as he had five years ago.

Vince did actually talk about the party’s actual message in that interview:

The Lib Dems’ message to voters is that they would temper the excesses of the Conservatives, who would cut too much, or Labour, who would borrow too much. But is that enough of a draw for voters who know the Lib Dems will never get to govern alone? “I think people will respond to the message that there is merit in being moderate and middle of the road,” Cable insists. “Particularly when you have parties being pulled to the extremes.”

He warns that the “Tory right” is forcing David Cameron into extreme positions on the EU, immigration and public spending, while Labour was “getting back to policy messages they last had in the ’50s and ’60s”. “So I think people will be attracted to people who are rooted in a centre ground,” he says.

There are lots of really good elements to the interview, including Vince’s description of going out canvassing on his patch:

“I do tend to have a good rating locally, maybe they think it’s counter-productive,” Cable says. “So I hope it stays that way. I always go out canvassing with a slight trepidation, you never know quite what you’re going to get, but I always come back feeling better than when I went out. I get almost 100% recognition, even under my hat which is a good start. People are overwhelmingly very nice, actually even if they’re against me politically. They’re always pleased to see you because they’ve seen you on the telly.”

The dancing stuff is also just lovely. I have to say, he really does do the detail. Some very nice lines in the plentiful photographs. But as I have said many times, will people please just play nice. We’ve been pretty good on the whole at keeping it together. The number of times I’ve had to metaphorically run into the middle and shout “stop” when this sort of thing happens is actually quite small. But at P-44, I don’t want to be doing any more of it. We’re all on the same side. We need us all pulling together and we certainly don’t need people kicking lumps out of each other for no good reason.

Tim and Vince are hugely valuable and hugely popular in the party. I don’t think Tim has ever been personally nasty about any colleagues and I hope others pay him the same courtesy from now on.

It’s difficult to see how these attacks can do anything other than enhance Tim’s already good reputation.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Sounds like panic from the party big wigs.

  • The 2 out of 10 thing has set a hare running that Leaders such as Vince Cable cannot really run away from. They either have to respond up front or via unsourced briefings and leaks. Carron is right that this sort of stuff is counter productive, but unless the story can be shown to be a fabrication, journalists will hound the Lib Dem leaders with 2/10 at every opportunity.

    Perhaps Vince has said what he has to to put a lid on these questions. I hope that now he will say that he has said all that needs to be said and has nothing more to add.

  • Paul Pettinger 24th Mar '15 - 11:50am

    “We’ve been pretty good on the whole at keeping it together.” – we have been terrible at keeping things together – look at our number of MEPs, Cllrs, AM and MSPs, decline and churn in members, poll ratings and votes in ballot boxes. We have been very good at serving people at the centre – giving a small cohort a mid career boost and getting people into the Lords. Maybe in five to ten years time Dr C will look back and view giving a score of 2 out of 10 was actually quite balanced.

  • Simon McGrath 24th Mar '15 - 11:51am

    @Caron “. Speaking about the interview in which Farron was reported as saying that he’d give 2/10 for our handling of some aspects of the coalition (which is so totally out of character for Tim that I doubt its accuracy),”

    Has Tim denied making it ?

  • This is what is meant by “becoming part of the establishment.”

  • Tim Farron is showing enormous responsibility to our party and the country which others would do well to emulate.

  • David-1 – talking of the Establishment, are you able to enlighten me as to the subtle difference between a House and School prefect that you and Bill Le Bretton alluded to?

    I wasn’t fortunate enough to go to a school which had such distinctions or, indeed, prefects of any kind.

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Mar '15 - 12:06pm

    Oh dear. Hopefully everyone’ll be too busy reporting David Cameron’s strange comments in the recent Landale interview to notice this.

  • Glenn Andrews 24th Mar '15 - 12:20pm

    Very much looking forward to campaign launch down here in Cheltenham tomorrow; where no doubt guest Tim Farron will stir us into action (not that we need motivating)….. and he’ll no doubt do so without making any personal attacks on any individual LibDem colleagues; which is more than can be said for some senior members of our party.

  • As a non-member Tim seems to me to represent the Party I voted for in 2010 far more than most of those who have held Ministerial responsibility. He also seems (again from the outside) to have done a very good job keeping members onside when they felt hurt or aggrieved by the actions or words of Lib Dem Ministers.

  • Very Sad. Things have got so bad under Nick that people now seem to be positioning themselves over who will have rights over the body after an election Armageddon instead of trying to save an extra seat or two. If every one of them worked at it, they could probably help save an extra dozen seats across the country. If it keeps going in this direction 12 held seats in total will be seen as a triumph.

  • After the annihilation in May, the party needs a leader who is an entertaining speaker and has strong views to give the Libdems a purpose and a role once again. These consensualists are good to have in a coalition Government, but in opposition someone who can take a stand is far more preferable.

  • Simon McGrath 24th Mar '15 - 12:46pm

    @Anthony – how is rubbishing the coalition “showing enormous responsibility to our party “?

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 24th Mar '15 - 1:17pm

    I don’t think he has rubbished the coalition but he is right that some of the decisions made have been disappointing and we have a big job to reconnect with people who previously supported us.

  • @Tabman: You’ll have to ask Bill. I have never darkened the door of any sort of boarding school in my life, and so cannot speak of my own knowledge.

  • Simon McGrath 24th Mar '15 - 1:55pm

    @anthony – some of the decision have been disappointing (tuition fees comes to mind) but how does giving it 2/10 help us in the election? How is this showing ‘enormous responsibility ‘?

  • David-1 – he’s being very coy on the subject. However I believe Houses and prefects are not just the preserve of boarding schools; day schools, grammar schools and even (heaven forbid) some comprehensives do.

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Mar '15 - 2:34pm

    A note: Tim Farron was, as I understood it, quoted as saying that he gave the LibDems 2/10 for handling the politics of coalition, and 8/10 for the negotiations that led to the coalition agreement. I don’t think he said anywhere that he gave the coalition 2/10 as an overall rating. That would appear to be a deliberate misreading.

    However, it was still an unwise thing to be saying in such a misquoteable way.

    I myself understood him to say that coalition could have been managed better, but was not in itself necessarily a bad outcome for the party although it has hard short-term politically damaging effects. Maybe I misread him.

  • I think the words attributed to Vince Cable and on a different occasion to Paddy Ashdown indicate an attitude of old men who are forgetting just how difficult it was to build the party up to more than 60 MPs, a dozen of so MEPs and thousands of councillors many of whom ran majority Liberal Democrat councils in Britain’s Big Cities.

    Neither Vince Cable nor Paddy Ashdown had any experience of being in government before 2010

    Astonishing ! — both of them were leaders of the party without a background in government.

    I joined The Liberal Party in 1970 when both Vince amd Paddy were supporters of The Labour Party.
    Youthful errors of judgement by them both, perhaps.

    By way of contrast Tim Farron seems to have a very long pedigree in The Liberal Democrats despite his relative youth.

  • John Tilley – “I joined The Liberal Party in 1970 when both Vince amd Paddy were supporters of The Labour Party.
    Youthful errors of judgement by them both, perhaps.”

    Or perhaps the Liberal Party of 1970 wasn’t particularly Liberal.

  • This is just getting ridiculous. It’s as if some people have forgotten that there’s an election coming up, and while Vince may be safe enough in Twickenham many of his colleagues are far from it – and may well have been much safer with Tim as leader.

    It also shows how far out of touch they are with many activists. Tim reflects those views, and vocalises them – I happen to agree with him that there are many, many things which the party could have handled better in coalition, starting with the Rose Garden press conference on that first day. In the “good old days” of the Lib Dems, though, this sort of suggestion would just have pushed more people to support Tim to annoy the leadership!

  • Philip Rolle 24th Mar '15 - 4:54pm

    Could it be that there is an “anyone but Tim” leadership campaign afoot?

  • Tabman – I remember the Liberal Party of 1970 as being a lot more Liberal than the Party is today. Although given that your comment was simply an unfriendly jibe it does of course depend on your interpretation of ‘Liberal’. I supported a party that I considered was much more radical in most respects than the Labour Party of the time.

  • Philip Thomas 24th Mar '15 - 7:17pm

    I was at Eton but the subtle distinction between house prefects and school prefects has eluded me too. Of course, Eton doesn’t call prefects “prefects” anyway- they are “members of Pop” or “Sixth Form Select” or some such (the details elude me at this distance, especially as I was not one).

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Mar '15 - 7:21pm

    I’m a fan of Farron, but I didn’t used to be. I think everyone receives criticism from time to time and has a desire to speak their mind, so I wouldn’t be too harsh on Cable, but yes the drip drip drip of anti Farron messaging needs to stop.


  • Philip Thomas 24th Mar '15 - 7:40pm

    Returning to the topic at hand, I was thinking of voting for Vince in the next leadership election, but this outburst makes me doubt his judgement…

  • Philip Thomas: How do you think you will manage to vote for someone who will not be a candidate?

  • Philip Thomas 24th Mar '15 - 8:18pm

    @Martin. I don’t know, are write-ins allowed?

  • Attacking Tim makes me want to defend him… Attacking Tim is counter productive for our parties General Election Campaign. Please balance you liberty, with your sense of community and don’t engage in friendly fire, its just common decency to support each other as moderates we are under fire from all sides those believing the left, the right, isolationism or self sufficiency holds a monopoly on truth… They don’t a balanced measured approach is best and a sober reflection says squabbles of this nature should be beneath us, they really are too petty!

  • I think I might be in a minority of 1 here, but I happen to agree with both Tim’s and Vince’s comment entirely…

  • Martin Williamson 24th Mar '15 - 8:21pm

    Philip Thomas- there were “House Captains”, though.

  • Philip Thomas 24th Mar '15 - 8:43pm

    Martin Williamson: in my house the house captain was called “Head of School”… so I guess he was both a house prefect and a school prefect.

  • Philip Thomas 24th Mar '15 - 8:44pm

    Or was it “Captain of School”. Like I said, my memory fades.

  • Alex Sabine 24th Mar '15 - 9:19pm

    Judging by how Tim Farron’s comments were reported, and knowing a little about journalists, I suspect Matt (Bristol) has got the interpretation broadly right. However it would be naive for a media-savvy politician like Tim Farron not to realise that his 2/10 rating would get more attention than the 8/10… and I don’t think political naivete is among Tim’s weaknesses. So he knew what he was doing, and – as the reaction to his comments here has shown – he has done his future leadership prospects no harm so far as many party activists are concerned.

    That does not necessarily mean the substance of what he said was wrong, of course. As an outsider I think 2/10 for the handling of coalition is overly harsh; but you can make a case that Tim is simply being frank about the scale of the backlash and loss of support the Lib Dems have suffered over the past 5 years, and that by doing that he is taking the first step towards reconnecting with voters.

    I’m not sure I share his analysis of why coalition has proved so traumatic for the Lib Dems (mishandling); in large part I think the first experience of government as a junior partner to either of the larger parties was always going to be a culture shock for a party that had built its support on its campaigning credentials and on attracting anti-establishment ‘protest’ votes from all sides. But, over and above that, clearly the party did shoot itself in the foot with things like the tuition fees debacle (starting with the ill-advised ‘pledge’), and has struggled (understandably) to tread the fine line between coalition effectiveness and party identity.

    Whether Farron’s blunt assessment is helpful to the Lib Dem cause a couple of months before the general election is another matter – I’m sure it will be seized on by Labour in particular. And I suspect Vince Cable’s sentiments are shared by many of his fellow MPs who perhaps think Tim’s ambition is on rather too obvious display. Vince himself is no stranger to using the media to promote his own agenda, of course, and (as Caron says) he has also been on the receiving end of some negative briefing.

    No doubt some of the MPs who might otherwise be sympathetic to Tim and share his analysis feel he is luxuriating in the fact that he hasn’t had to shoulder government responsibility and has been able to give his personal views a freer rein. They have compromised themselves in ways Tim hasn’t, and they are irritated by his drawing attention to that. Plus they must realise that by being such an energetic and effective party president Tim has built up a big personal following, especially with activists – Vince’s characterisation of this as “a bit of a fan club” would seem to be an understatement.

  • David Allen 24th Mar '15 - 9:54pm

    It’s all a bit rats in the sack, isn’t it? Further, we still haven’t had it explained quite why Clegg should choose to walk out of parliament (In disgust?) halfway through Danny Alexander’s budget stunt.

    I suspect everything is turning far more pear-shaped than anyone wants to admit.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 24th Mar '15 - 10:40pm

    David, he was heading to Gravesend to film the PPB.

  • Caron! You’ve ruined a good conspiracy theory!

  • William Jones 25th Mar '15 - 8:32am

    Oh dear, Vince . Last scrap of respect lost for any potential leadership attempt by him LOST. He should remember that he, while being a minister, has made mistakes in coalition. E.g., the fiasco in trading “shares for rights” for the green investment bank with Michael Fallon. Not being a minster in the coalition doesn’t disqualify potential leadership candidates. In fact, it may be an advantage in some ways.

  • The party’s future lies with Young Turks. We older members have had our opportunities and worked hard to see a sizeable number of MPs and activists. Sadly it has been destroyed and it will need even harder work to get back to the number of MPs in Kennedy’s time. I remember the present leader saying he would get us 150 MPs! Tim has the drive , enthusiasm and knows how to keep in contact.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Mar '15 - 10:29am


    The 2 out of 10 thing has set a hare running that Leaders such as Vince Cable cannot really run away from.

    Farron himself was saying something very different until recently. He was one of the prime movers singing the praises of how wonderful the coalition is, pushing out the message “75% of our manifesto implemented”. If he has now changed his mind, I think he should have the humility to say so. If it’s “2 out of 10”, then that should have been obvious when Farron was giving it 7.5 out of 10.

    I’m sorry, since it does appear that Farron is now the leading figure to be contender for the party leadership on the side I’d prefer, but I have some sympathy for what Vince Cable was saying, I’ve always regarded Farron as rather lightweight, and I have my doubts about whether he would be competent as a leader. I’ve moved from the position I used to take which was “Anyone but Farron” (apart from Jeremy Browne, of course), but I’d still like to see someone else come forward with a longer and deeper history of scepticism about the coalition as potential new leader.

  • I’ve been avoiding LDV so as not to spread negativity to campaigners, but acting as if Farron’s leadership is a fait accompli is counterproductive. There are many reasons why Tim might make a terrible leader, yet many seems insistent on ushering him in as quickly as possible without proper scrutiny or considerations of other candidates.

    You can’t have a leader of a liberal party who voted against gay marriage and expect to be taken seriously, it’s implausible. Farron will convert the momentary rebellion into a long-term reality – if you expect people to vote Lib Dem in the future is it prudent to have such an obvious hypocrite leading the party?

    Tim should have the decency to STFU as regards negative commenting during this election campaign, I wouldn’t make this sort of comment just prior to May. Farron has displayed his treacherous streak too many times, buyer beware! I’m glad Cable & Ashdown clipped his wings; he’s an annoying, unlikeable christian conservative whose ascension shouldn’t be guaranteed.

  • Paul in Wokingham 25th Mar '15 - 1:27pm

    @Caron – we all know that Clegg left Danny Alexander’s budget presentation in order to film a PPB.

    But to walk out of that particular event while it was in full flow – to a chorus of “bye-eee” and waves from the opposition benches so reminiscent of the “cheerio-cheerio-cheerio” heard at football when fans leave during the match because they know their team are well-beaten – was very poor stage management.

  • Alex Sabine 25th Mar '15 - 6:10pm

    The whole event was “poor stage management” – not least Danny Alexander posing outside the Treasury with that lurid yellow box. It was also an abuse of parliamentary procedure which the Speaker should not have allowed (and clearly felt uncomfortable about, given the warning he gave Danny at the start of his statement).

  • Philip Thomas 25th Mar '15 - 10:53pm

    Does Farron still oppose gay marriage? Is he committed to repealing the relevant legislation?

    If not, what does his previous stance matter? He made a mistake, he’s changed his mind, move on!

  • “you can’t have a leader of a liberal party who voted against gay marriage”

    Quite possibly. So you’d need to look at their voting record

  • Philip Thomas 26th Mar '15 - 8:19am
  • Graham Evans 26th Mar '15 - 8:39pm

    @Philip Thomas It’s not at all obvious from the article link that Tim Farron is calling for “gay marriage to be extended globally”. The article merely talks about LGBT rights and same sex equality. As Hywel observed, Tim Farron pointedly failed to support gay marriage when it was voted on in the Commons, so it is somewhat gilding the lily to suggest that he is now in favour of global gay marriage; I am not aware of his having made a public apology for his inaction – at least Nick Clegg apologised over the issue of student fees. Indeed Tim Farron is starting to look like the Tony Benn of the Lib Dems – an impressive campaigner, but someone who gives little thought for the damaging impact his pronouncements can have on those outside his circle of ardent supporters.

  • Stephen Howse 27th Mar '15 - 3:48pm

    “Farron himself was saying something very different until recently. He was one of the prime movers singing the praises of how wonderful the coalition is, pushing out the message “75% of our manifesto implemented”. If he has now changed his mind, I think he should have the humility to say so. If it’s “2 out of 10″, then that should have been obvious when Farron was giving it 7.5 out of 10.”

    He hasn’t changed his stance, he gave a 2/10 for our management of the politics of coalition. It’s entirely possible and consistent to think that while we have done well at getting our manifesto implemented, we have done rather poorer at taking credit for it and reaping the political benefit from that.

  • David Evans 27th Mar '15 - 5:09pm

    Graham, Of course Nick voted in totally the opposite way to his promise and only apologised for making the promise not breaking it. In contrast how you can describe someone as “pointedly” not vote for something, and then imply that is worse than breaking a pledge and voting in totally the opposite way may be putting a particular slant on a personal hobby horse rather than looking dispassionately about two different issues. As for your reference likening Tim Farron to Tony Benn, I suggest you consider the headline of the entire thread.

  • Paul Kennedy 29th Mar '15 - 1:45pm

    Tim gets 10/10 from me

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