Tim Farron ended his first speech as leader of the Liberal Democrats saying:
Here is our call tonight: liberals of Britain, if you want a better Britain, then you need to do something about it. Come and be part of the most joyful, inspiring and worthwhile comeback in political history, because that comeback starts right now, right here, it starts with us.
The first notable success, under Farron’s leadership, came at the Witney by-election, in which the Lib Dems rose from fourth in the constituency, in 2015, to second. Liz Leffman increased the Lib Dem vote, from just under 4,000, to well over 11,000, as the size of the Conservative vote almost halved. The campaign saw that we had defeated Labour, the Green Party and UKIP. Perhaps the biggest victory of the October by-election was, however, getting greater support than the Eccentric Party, Bus-Pass Elvis and the Monster Raving Loony Party (combined!).
“You still have the same number of MPs,” the Tories and Labour would helpfully point out. That was about to change. On the 1st December last year Sarah Olney beat the then independent candidate Frank Zacharias Robin Goldsmith (next time I think I’ll just stick with Zac) in the Richmond Park by-election, to get another progressive Lib Dem voice in parliament.
The Lib Dems’ success under Farron was not just restricted to the national level, but was also found in local councils. Triumphing in over 20 council by-elections, Farron seemed to have provoked the ‘comeback’ that he had called for.
Then, on the 18th April, we heard this from outside number 10:
I have just chaired a meeting of the cabinet, where we agreed that the government should call a General Election, to be held on the 8th June.
We hoped that the signs of our rejuvenation, would result in a good performance at the snap election. It would be the chance to try and put Liberal values on the agenda and promote our message to the public. Shortly after the announcement, Tim Farron explained:
It’s a fantastic opportunity for the British people to change the direction of our country, to vote for that change.
The debate, however, soon focussed on the old Labour, Tory split. Corbyn managed to dominate headlines, as the Lib Dems were pushed to the side. Labour diverted attention from their shambolic Brexit strategy to other issues, whilst, to the public, the Lib Dems seemed to carry on talking about just that one thing. To me, the Lib Dem manifesto was an incredible vision of what our country could look like: significantly raising the Carer’s Allowance, legalising Cannabis, tripling the Early Years Pupil Premium, restoring the zero-carbon standard for new homes, opposing airport expansions, uprating working age benefits, taking in at least 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children and introducing votes for 16 year-olds. However, we failed to successfully communicate this vision to the rest of the country.
The General Election saw us gain 12 seats, 4 more than 2015. Whilst we lost Nick Clegg, we saw the return of Vince Cable, Jo Swinson and Ed Davey. It was a good night for the Lib Dems, but it could have been much, much better.
Tim Farron was a good leader. He convinced me to join the Liberal Democrats and his leadership saw the party’s membership surge to over one hundred thousand. Now we find ourselves in the search for a new one. Vince Cable has already announced that he will be standing and it seems likely that Ed Davey will also. Until everyone who is standing has announced their candidacy, I will reserve comment on who I am going to support. However, whoever it is must learn from Farron’s leadership and also be able to provide and portray a better, more liberal and more prosperous country in the future.