The Liberal Democrats currently have 101 peers in the second chamber. Another ten could be added with the dissolution honours list, making 111 in total. That’s almost 14 times as many peers as there are Lib Dem MPs.
You might think that this is a boon to Farron. It lends his party a parliamentary heft that it doesn’t have in the Commons. Lib Dem peers will be able to unite with Labour ones, and drag their ermine all over the Conservative Government’s policies.
All of which is true – but this imbalance of Lib Dem lawmakers ought to concern the new leader. It’s not just it doesn’t look proper for a party that harps on about Lords reform. It’s also that not all of these peers count as Friends of Farron.
Two names stand out from the list of those who endorsed Norman Lamb, not Farron, for the leadership: Lord Ashdown and Baroness Williams. The first of these is probably the most prominent, and possibly the most popular, Lib Dem in town. He also comes bearing vicious criticism, amidst faint praise, for the new leader:
“I know Tim very well. He is a great campaigner, a good friend of mine. I think his well-known ambitions would probably be better served with a little more patience and a little more judgement.”
There may soon be others joining Ashdown in the Lords who regard Farron’s judgement as suspect – or, worse, malignant. They think he put career before party during the last Parliament, in his regular sorties against the Coalition government.
Of course, Farron also has his supporters in the second chamber; Lords Steel and Paddick among them. But that doesn’t diminish the oddness of the situation.
Normally, Westminster’s big beasts are regarded as some sort of dwindling breed, overwhelmed by the dictates of natural selection. In the Lib Dems, they actually outnumber the smaller creatures.