The Liberal Democrats are gathered in Bournemouth for their annual conference and the media hasn’t taken much notice. But according to the party’s leader Tim Farron, it’s the biggest conference since Liberal Democrats came together in the late 1980s. On the Today programme, Farron claimed the party was in a good position, having gained 20,000 new members since the election, and is poised to take advantage of the changing political times:
‘Over the last week and a half, we’re in a situation aren’t we where the tectonic plates of British politics have changed massively and we are in a situation where we alone stand as the one party who are socially just and economically credible.’
Given these shifting plates, there is a possibility that disaffected Labour MPs might switch sides. Farron revealed he’s had conversations with MPs but said ‘I won’t be drawn on that and I think I won’t be drawn on that because it would be indecent for me to do so’ — despite the fact he revealed the conversations in the first place. But these threats of defections are real, he insisted:
‘We can establish that a number of people I’ve spoken to over the last week or so, who speak to me in complete confidence, speak of their immense angst at the situation in the Labour party. They may have been members of the parties for many, many years and have seen their party change kind of almost overnight.
‘My job as Liberal Democrat leader is not to be a kind of homewrecker for Labour MPs, but it is to provide a home for liberals and social democrats wherever they may be.’
And despite the party’s bruising experience in the last coalition government, Farron said that the Lib Dems are still focused on getting back into power and he would join forces with Jeremy Corbyn if needed:
‘We want to be in power. As we saw in 2010, it’s not up to a political party, it’s up to the electorate to give us that arithmetic. What I say is that you can’t get involved in politics and expect to have any credibility and not wish to be in power. A day in office is worth a 1,000 years in opposition.’
Farron has used his image as a chirpy, cheerful chap to attempt to resuscitate his party, although some Lib Dems are concerned about whether he has enough policy ideas to create a coherent message voters want to hear. Radio 4 helpfully took advantage of Farron’s love of music to introduce him live to a member of 80s one-hit wonders Prefab Sprout. As you can imagine, he was delighted. In case you were wondering, The King of Rock’n’Roll was the band’s sole hit, reaching #7 in 1988. If nothing else, the new politics is proving quirkier than the old.