Shirley Williams backs Norman Lamb as Lib Dem leader

Shirley Williams, the founding member of the Social Democratic party, has backed former care minister Norman Lamb to replace Nick Clegg as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

In a statement, Lady Williams described Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, as one of the finest MPs and ministers she had met in her “long political life”. “He is a wonderful constituency MP, a man who has brought politics at its best to his county,” she said, adding: “Norman became a parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in 1992, a time when personal ambition might have led many politicians to a party that offered a better chance of becoming an MP.”

A former Labour MP and cabinet minister, Williams was one of the group known as the “Gang of Four” who broke away from the Labour party in 1981 to form the SDP, which later joined with the Liberals in 1988 to create the Liberal Democrats. Between 2001 and 2004, she served as the leader of the Lib Dems in the House of Lords.

Williams said Lamb’s commitments had widened alongside his political responsibilities, highlighting his campaign to give mental health the same status as physical health. “Norman will devote himself to rebuilding our party, and to reminding people of the values our party stands for – liberty, social justice, fairness and compassion,” she said. “I think he will be the kind of leader who can build trust among our fellow citizens.”

Nick Clegg resigned as Lib Dem leader after the party’s worst performance in a general election since its formation. The party lost 48 of its 56 MPs, leaving it with just eight and making it the joint fourth biggest party in parliament, along with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party, behind the Scottish National party.

Norman Lamb said he was thrilled Williams was supporting his leadership campaign, having always had a great admiration for her. “I first met Shirley when she was one of the Gang of Four setting up the SDP,” he said. “She encouraged and inspired me to get involved. I was a Liberal party member but I joined the SDP as well as a founder member.”

With nominations for Lib Dem leadership candidates closing on Wednesday, the contest is almost certain to be a head-to-head battle between the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron, and Lamb.

To get on the Lib Dem leadership ballot, a candidate must have the endorsement of 200 members from 20 local party organisations as well as 10% of the parliamentary party, which constitutes less than one of the party’s eight remaining MPs. After nominations close on 3 June, members will cast their ballots under an alternative vote system and the winner will be announced on 16 July.

A former party president and key figure on the left of the party, Farron is thought to be the frontrunner owing to his popularity with grassroots activists. He won 52% of the vote in his constituency in the general election and was a vocal opponent of the coalition’s tripling of tuition fees, one of the policies that most damaged the Lib Dems.

Farron, who is the bookie’s favourite, has so far secured the formal backing of three of the party’s MPs (Mark Williams, John Pugh and Greg Mulholland), the heads of the Scottish and Welsh branches of the Lib Dems, Willie Rennie and Kirsty Williams, and more than 100 former Lib Dem election candidates.

Lamb has been publicly endorsed by Tom Brake, the MP for Carshalton and Wallington.

Lamb, a former employment lawyer, is more aligned with the politics of the coalition, having served as minister for care and support and minister for employment relations. He is considered a centrist and served as parliamentary private secretary to Clegg from May 2010 to February 2012. Clegg is expected to remain neutral throughout the leadership contest.

Powered by article was written by Frances Perraudin, for The Guardian on Monday 1st June 2015 06.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010