The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, has said Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election “potentially changes everything” for his party, likening the movement that led to Corbyn’s election to that behind Syriza in Greece and Donald Trump in the US.
Writing in the Guardian before his party’s autumn conference in Bournemouth this weekend, Farron said Corbyn’s election had sent shockwaves through Westminster, adding: “For my party, the Liberal Democrats, it potentially changes everything.”
The MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale argued that Corbyn’s victory would open “a massive space in the centre ground of British politics for sensible, moderate, progressives who are opposed to what the Conservatives are doing, but cannot bring themselves to support a party of the hard left”.
Farron said there were lessons to be learned from Corbynmania, the term used for the movement that carried Corbyn to his landslide victory on Saturday.
Corbyn’s campaign “plugged into a mood – also exemplified by Donald Trump in the States, Syriza in Greece or indeed by the tens of thousands with whom I marched on Saturday in support of refugees – which is deeply distrustful of the establishment and old style Punch-and-Judy politics”, he wrote.
The Lib Dem leader repeated a claim, which he first made in an interview with the Evening Standard on Thursday, that he had received a number of unsolicited calls and messages from distraught Labour MPs after Corbyn’s election as the party’s leader, which provoked speculation that some Labour MPs may be planning to defect to the Lib Dems.
“Over the past few days I have received a number of messages and calls from friends within the Labour party distressed by the direction that their party is taking,” wrote Farron. “To the right, I have talked with a new Conservative MP taken aback by the attitudes that they have encountered within their own party.”
John Woodcock, an MP in a neighbouring constituency to Farron and a key figure in Liz Kendall’s leadership campaign, told the Guardian he had no doubt Farron’s claims were untrue.
“Every Labour MP I know thinks the Liberal Democrats have lost all credibility for good and also despises Tim Farron as being slippery and untrustworthy,” said Woodcock. “I think he is the last person my colleagues would confide in if they were distressed about the direction of the Labour party.”
Farron, who was elected as leader of the Lib Dems in July, said a liberal government would see its role “as an enabler, a creator of opportunity, a guarantor of freedoms, a voice for the powerless”.
“As individuals, the internet has opened up new previously unimaginable opportunities – as consumers, as entrepreneurs and as citizens – but rendered the regulatory procedures on which we have previously relied entirely redundant,” he wrote.
“As government loses the power to manage and regulate traditional activities it can respond in a number of ways: it can become isolationist and seek to withdraw from the modern world, going it alone; it can turn in on itself and its citizens, spying on their emails and interfering in their private lives; or it can embrace the change and empower its citizens to be the very best they can be.”
Farron is seen as being on the left of his party, having voted against the coalition government’s rise in tuition fees and the bedroom tax. Speaking at a hustings organised for Guardian members in Bristol before he was elected leader, Farron said: “I think centrism is pointless. It’s uninspiring. I’m not a centrist.”
During his leadership campaign, Farron said his strategy for the party would be to be unequivocal about issues Labour wouldn’t be brave enough to tackle head on – like the tragedy of the migration crisis and the sell-off of housing association homes. “If we cheese off 70% of the electorate, but 30% embrace us, we’ll have that,” he said in an interview with the Guardian at the time.
Since Corbyn’s election, some party figures have suggested privately the Labour party is starting to encroach on territory that Farron had marked out for the Lib Dems, necessitating a change of direction.
The Liberal Democrats won 8% of the vote in May’s general election, losing 48 of their 56 seats in parliament and leaving them the fourth biggest party in terms of representation in parliament.
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Thursday 17th September 2015 20.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010