Norman Lamb’s campaign to become leader of the Liberal Democrats has received a significant boost after another former party leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, and a large group of other former MPs, declared their backing for the Norfolk MP.
In a letter to the Guardian, they say Lamb can set a new tone in politics and has the qualities required to take the party out its comfort zone. Lord Ashdown has already announced he is backing Lamb but Nick Clegg has decided he will not set out his preference. Campbell was party leader from 2006 to 2007, and succeeded Charles Kennedy.
Tim Farron, regarded as the frontrunner in a two-horse race, is thought to have as many former MPs backing him, but it is significant that two former party leaders are willing to give their backing to Lamb in what may emerge to be a tighter contest than previously thought.
Other signatories to the letter include the former Treasury secretary David Laws, the former energy secretary Ed Davey and Lady Williams, the former Labour cabinet minster and now a Liberal Democrat stalwart in the Lords. Lamb has also won the support of the former Scottish secretary Michael Moore, the former chief whip Don Foster and Lynn Featherstone, the former home office minister regarded as on the left of the party.
In the letter, the former MPs, including nine former ministers say they have witnessed firsthand the personal qualities that are needed in a successful party leader and say the choice must be about “something more ambitious than just making ourselves feel better”.
They say that Lamb “has committed himself to leading a policy and political fightback, reaching out to those millions – particularly young people – who share our values and instincts but are put off by closed party structures and tribal political behaviour. He can set a new tone in our national politics”.
They say leadership is sometimes about the ability “to take an unpopular stand, or challenge our party to leave its comfort zone.”
The letter, which is designed to coincide with the dispatch of ballot papers to the party membership, says Lamb will be a powerful champion of “human rights, political reform, social justice, UK membership of the EU and international action to stem climate change”.
They highlight his role as a champion of giving equal status to the issue of mental health alongside physical health in the NHS.
“We are looking for a leader who will inspire us, grow the party, and be a persuasive voice for liberalism. We have two great candidates but have no hesitation in supporting Norman Lamb and urging others to do the same”.
The former Treasury secretary, Danny Alexander, has not expressed support for either candidate.
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