Final stages of Liberal Democrat leadership contest - Norman Lamb reconciled to either outcome

Norman Lamb at the Forum to launch his Lib Dem leadership bid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norman Lamb at the Forum to launch his Lib Dem leadership bid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

The next leader of the Liberal Democrats will be anointed on Thursday. POLITICAL EDITOR ANNABELLE DICKSON reports.

Norman Lamb says he has been 'punch-drunk'.

Since the brutal decimation of the Liberal Democrats in May prompted a leadership contest, the North Norfolk MP has taken part in 25 head-to-head debates and been on the campaign trail seven days each week in his bid for the top job.

Despite endorsements from the iconic and much-loved former leader Paddy Ashdown and veteran Shirley Williams, not to mention former N-Dubz rapper Dappy, the former health minister is far from the bookies favourite.

Last night Ladbrokes was offering 10/1 on his anointment. Rival Tim Farron is on 1/33.

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But his phone canvassers avidly trying to pick up the last few votes do suggest it is going to be a close, he says.

'I have been encouraged by the momentum built up. I am not sure it will be enough to win. The phone calling we have been doing suggests it is very close, but it is hard to judge how accurate that is. We will know on Thursday.' He says he is 'reconciled to either outcome'.

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'Psychologically if I lose I have got the vitally important job of being the MP for North Norfolk and there are things I care a lot about which I will pursue, particularly on health and care, mental health in particular. 'If I win, it is a massive undertaking, but I will take it on and give everything to it, whilst also of course making sure I don't neglect North Norfolk, which has always been my principal whether a minister, or whatever I am,' he added.

'The interesting thing is at the start there was an attempt by many to trail me as the continuity candidate, but it is not what I am about. I am my own person and I have tried to set out a radical platform. I feel we have led the debate on policy and been the more radical option as the campaign has unfolded.' Despite the contest coming on the back of a gruelling election campaign he is upbeat about how engaged members have been.

And is dismissive of the impact that a row over polling last month might have had on his chances.

He apologised to Mr Farron amid reports that party members were asked questions about issues related to his opponent's faith.

'They did it without my knowledge and authority. The mark of leadership is to act decisively and I did and didn't want to have anything to do with that style of campaigning,' he said.

'I think the mood at all the hustings has been incredibly positive given the party has been through this extraordinary trauma and loss of representation in parliament.

'None of us have sought to run a dirty campaign.'

Most column inches have been devoted to the Labour leadership bid, by dint of the fact the Liberal Democrats have just eight MPs left.

'It is always invidious to compare with others, but the Labour leadership campaign appears to be in some difficulty and appears to have been quite uninspiring for Labour members, but also negative and hostile between the candidates and I think we have avoided that,' he said. 'Inevitably, I am conscious that in the circumstances we are in we have to fight to be heard. There is no doubt about that. There is a massive challenge for progressives in British politics at the moment.

'There will always be a Conservative Party. It is incredibly important for democracy that there is a real challenge. You don't get a good Government unless there is a real competitiveness for people's support and votes and Labour's route back to power looks pretty impossible at the moment. Lib Dems have gone through a near death experience. Progressives have to come up with a munch clearer plan as to how we appeal to the country as an alternative to the Conservative Party which appears intent on widening the gap between rich and poor.' Whether the Liberal Democrats choose him as their leader, this week his fate will be sealed.

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