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Where Do the Lib Dems Go From Here?

22/07/2015 13:37 BST | Updated 22/07/2016 10:59 BST

As MPs head off for the summer break this week, one man with little time to rest will be newly-elected Lib Dem leader Tim Farron. No lazy days by a Tuscan pool, I'm afraid, as he has less than two months before his first party conference and a big test ahead as he leads the Lib Dem fightback.

He's inherited a tough situation: an Election wipe out, a parliamentary party you can count on two hands and an end to automatic media coverage. But amid the doom there are signs of hope. Within hours of the candidates losing their deposits, a strange wave of sympathy or anger triggered Lib Dem voters to contact Party HQ and join.

Since polling day, almost 20,000 have signed up in a remarkable twist to an awful night of gloom. While last week, the same day Tim became leader the party won three local by-elections. It's another small sign that a corner is already being turned.

But whilst new members and councillors are important and have been the ground base for the party during hard times, they're not enough. Tim needs to think big. He should not be scared off from seeking power because of what happened in May. The party was punished, but that doesn't mean it was wrong to take power back in May 2010.

I am a massive Nick Clegg fan. He did the right thing and history will show the party achieved a great deal in government. It shouldn't be assumed that voters rejected the party because of tuition fees or power sharing or any mistrust of Nick: the reasons why people voted are complex and one of Tim's biggest tasks is to understand that.

It's all too tempting to say 'we have listened; we got it wrong', but actually I'm not so sure voters were throwing the Lib Dems a big negative message. A lot of people have told me they don't think the party deserved to be wiped out and that they now feel guilty at not voting Lib Dem. Their reasons were more about stopping the SNP forming a coalition or flirting with UKIP for a change.

Yet whilst we should not beat ourselves up over the defeat, there are many things to change. A party built on delivering focus leaflets is not the rock it once was.

The foundation needs to come from a core understanding of what being 'liberal' actually is. Start with the name: the Liberal Democrats needs a rebrand. Let's be proud to finally call ourselves Liberals once again, with a new logo and a new start.

It's not just a gimmick; we can actually set out what a 21st century Liberal means. Tim calls Jo Grimond a hero, so let's echo those great liberal values of the past, define them in a modern age and create Liberal values: tolerance; freedom of speech; real action on the environment; campaigning for Europe; respect for international law and human rights; a liberal economy which frees people to achieve; and trying to end 'nanny state' rules and regulations with smaller government.

It's also about a genuine belief in equality, whatever your gender or sexuality. Some have expressed doubts about Tim Farron's ability to marry this agenda with his Christian views, but I can only say that his Westminster office was next to mine and after my gay affair he could not have been more supportive and kind. He is a decent, clever and totally straightforward guy. He's not stuffy and is slightly 'anti' most modern politicians in the sense that he talks and dresses in a non-spin manner.

As Labour faces a leadership crisis without even having a leader, there is every sign that the official opposition may struggle during this parliament. Step forward a reborn, re-named and re-energised genuine Liberal party, and the gloom of May could soon be replaced with some famous by-election wins and hundreds of new councillors.