In the very earliest days of the general election campaign, senior Lib Dem figures – pushed hard enough over what would constitute a success – would whisper the number “30”.
That Tim Farron’s sudden realisation that his lifelong political views and lifelong religious faith are perhaps not compatible should have occurred almost at the very moment that the number in question turned out to be 12, is an unfortunate coincidence.
But it means that the Lib Dem fightback really does have to start now, and it will begin with a party leadership contest that may or may not have concluded before the start of the Tory one.
Who are the contenders to replace Tim Farron as leader of the Lib Dems?
Within the party, it is widely considered to be either a one- or a three-horse race, depending on whether the one horse decides to run.
Jo Swinson – newly returned to East Dunbartonshire after a two-year absence – is the overwhelming favourite, but it is far from overwhelmingly clear whether she wants the job.
Sir Vince Cable has told The Independent he is “not ruling anything out”. Norman Lamb admitted on BBC Question Time that he is “thinking about it”. Insofar as maneouvres are possible among a 12-person parliamentary party – up to a third of which are on maneouvre – Ed Davey is also said to be on maneouvres.
Party sources say that the nominations will formally open in “a couple of weeks” and will remain open for a “couple of weeks”. Liberal Democrat rules state that candidates require nominations from 10 per cent of the parliamentary party which, given candidates can nominate themselves, has been rounded up from 1.2 to 2, rather than down to 1. They also require 200 nominations from party members, spread across 20 constituencies. There’s no whittling down of the candidates. All go before the membership, who rank them in order to elect a winner under the Single Transferable Vote system.
If the contest makes it all…