In a surprise twist the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has backed airstrikes on Islamic State in Syria, claiming that the situation is not akin to the one that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Farron had previously set out five tests that would have to be met before he supported prime minister David Cameron’s plans to drop bombs in Syria, stressing the legality of such a move and whether it would be supported by other measures.
Fleet Street’s political hacks have treated the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth this week as something of a joke, noting that the party has a mere eight MPs following a crushing defeat in the polls at May.
Yet as Tim Farron seeks to turn the party around positioning will be key, and a first political party broadcast from the new leader may well set the tone for the coming months and years in opposition:
Farron has long been placed on the social democratic side of the party, as opposed to the more classically liberal side occupied by previous leader Nick Clegg as his cohort known as the Orange Bookers.
As such the new leader’s bid to focus on Britain’s ongoing housing crisis is more in keeping with his flank, with the video emphasising Farron’s softly spoken approach with phrases such as “a level of housing need” in place of franker expression.
Whether the Lib Dems would build 300,000 houses even if they were in power is debatable – much of Britain is wrapped up in excessive planning laws regarding listed buildings, protected views and green belts – but the focus is interesting.
Unfortunately he must also work to disassociate his party from the Tories, whose toxicity ensured many lefties switched from voting Lib Dem to Labour or Greens, helping to seal mass losses in South West England and South London.
Farron’s belief that his party could be back in power by 2020 is at odds with Menzies Campbell, who puts the recovery at ten years. But at least for the party both assume the much rumoured extinction of the Lib Dems is overhyped.
“I’ve had various unsolicited texts, some of them over the weekend, where I felt like I was being an agony aunt rather than anything else. People who have been members of the [Labour] party for as long as I’ve been a member of mine who feel that they don’t recognise their party anyone and feel deeply distressed.”
“The bottom line is…people in the Labour Party need to understand they can have conversations with me, which may or may not be conclusive, which will remain totally between me and them.”
This is despite the party’s destructive general election that left the party with a mere eight MPs, with many progressives dismayed abandoning the party over its support for university tuition fees, and some even branding the Liberals “Yellow Tories”.
Although Farron’s comments hint at potential defections, in another interview this week he was reluctant to discuss defections or a potential Labour split reminiscent of that which created the Social Democratic Party, which saw four leading figures from Labour peel off into a more centrist unit.
Farron told BuzzFeed that it was “far too soon” to discuss such a split, adding on the subject of potential defections: “That’s not something I’m wanting to talk about particularly, that’s an internal matter for them.”