The Lib Dems may have been reduced to just eight MPs – the same number as the DUP – but they could yet hold the balance of power after the next election. In this week’s New Statesman I interview Tim Farron, the frontrunner to lead the party (who the NS has endorsed), and ask him whether he would be prepared to enter government with the Conservatives or Labour. He refuses to rule out another coalition on the grounds that doing so would make the Lib Dems “weak in negotiations” and that “the arithmetic” may require it. But he sets out one major precondition: the automatic introduction of proportional representation.
“I would not sign off any agreement with any of the other parties that did not entail [electoral reform],” he tells me. “End of story. Massive, massive red line, don’t even pick up the phone”. Unlike in 2010, when the Lib Dems secured a referendum on the Alternative Vote (which was subsequently lost), Farron would demand PR without a public vote. It is a demand sufficiently strong to raise the question of whether he wants to avoid entering power again so early in the party’s recovery.
Elsewhere in the interview, Farron declares his opposition to fracking on environmental grounds (“It’s another fossil fuel”) and to the like-for-like replacement of Trident (“It’s an act of aggression and will be seen as so by a global community that’s looking for people to disarm, not rearm to the max”). He also gives his assessment of the Labour leadership race: “I’ll be very careful what I say here, I think they’ve all got something to them and for them … I just hope that Labour select someone, for the country’s sake, who is bound to be tribal to an extent, that’s kind of their job, but is not too tribal and understands that what the Conservatives are about is entrenching themselves in power for a generation and they really don’t care if they dismantle the United Kingdom in the process. I hope whoever they elect is somebody who, whilst they must put the interests of the Labour Party first, must also consider the long-term importance of working with others to make sure we protect Britain’s future.”
Farron suggests that Andy Burnham, the frontrunner, could prove a surprise reformist. “There are some arguments for him as being a bit of a Kinnock-type character and I don’t mean that in a nasty way, I actually mean that in a complimentary way. He’s somebody who’s perceived as of the left who could move the party in a more moderate direction.”
Now listen to George discussing Tim Farron’s leadership prospects on the NS podcast: