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Coalition-sceptic Lib Dems thrive in internal Lib Dem elections

By Jonathan Isaby

Small signs of discontent about the Coalition from within the ranks of grassroots Liberal Democrats, as reported in this morning's Guardian:

Picture 5 Liberal Democrat candidates who called for their party to move away from Tory policies triumphed in internal elections for its two ruling bodies at the weekend. Nick Clegg has been at pains to emphasise the Lib Dem leadership supports all coalition government policies, but the former MP Evan Harris [pictured] topped the poll, calling for the party to "distance ourselves from Conservative policies that have been imposed on our ministers".

After reports that senior Tories and Lib Dems were working together to develop a longer-term programme, Harris emphasised that if the Lib Dems entered into another coalition at the next election, it didn't necessarily have to be with the Tories. "Any post-election partnership working should be based purely on the arithmetic and on the policy overlap and that policy work should derived totally independently of the views of our coalition partners," he said.

David Rendel was also returned, coming second in the election to the federal executive, which deals with management and strategy for the party. He is well known for being the only vote against the Lib Dems forming a pact with the Tory party when the executive was asked in May.

Evan Harris, who was defeated by Nicola Blackwood in Oxford West and Abingdon at the general election and is tipped imminently to be given a seat in the House of Lords, ratcheted pressure on Clegg when he added:

"The amount of support I received in these elections demonstrates that the mainstream of the party's grassroots is overwhelmingly socially progressive and, while supporting the coalition, wants the differences between the coalition parties more clearly identified. Nick Clegg should know that while the party mainstream supports him, these election results demonstrate that they want to help him resist more effectively Tory-initiated policies which are not in the coalition agreement and which are antithetical to Liberal Democrat policies and principles."

Picture 4 Also this weekend came the result of the election for Liberal Democrat President, a role which involves being a figurehead for and representative of the grassroots, and chairing the party's Federal Executive Committee.

The election was won by Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron [pictured] by a margin of 14,593 to 12,950 over ex-MP Susan Kramer (on a turnout of 41.9% of the party's 65,861 members).

Farron - a very personable Lancastrian by birth - was the more Coalition-sceptic of the candidates, enjoying the backing of Sir Menzies Campbell and Charles Kennedy and proclaiming that he would vote against the recently-announced proposals to increase tuition fees. He has also been noticeably absent from the division lobbies altogether for votes on the Academies Bill, post office privatisation and backing the UK presence in Afghanistan.

Over the weekend he also commented in the Independent on Sunday that "you would have to be absolutely stark raving mad to think there's any chance of a merger or closer relationship or a pact with the Conservatives."