Farron rips up the rules on leaders’ speeches

It is no surprise that Tim Farron can make a decent speech. It’s what he does. Today, though, he took the tried and tested formula for leaders’ speeches. You know the Rules, where they slag off the other parties, they carefully talk about a few issues considered to be the key interests of the electorate, utter a few platitudes, tell a few jokes and end on a high note.

It’s all a bit contrived sometimes, way too polished,  and leaves the listener wanting a bit of genuine discourse and emotion.

Not today. Liberal Democrats are not known for their deference to their leader. It’s impossible to imagine any of us being as devoted to our leader as SNP activists are to Nicola Sturgeon.  We don’t always do their bidding and we usually answer back if they do something we don’t like. We are definitely not the sort of people who give people massive standing ovations in the middle of their speeches like we did this afternoon because he spoke so passionately, as we would, for the refugees whose plight is pretty much dismissed by the Government. He was angry and he showed it and he took us with him.

And what we’ve had from David Cameron is a careful calibration of what it will take to manage that story, the minimum effort for the maximum headlines.

And a policy which will not directly help a single one of the hundreds of thousands currently on the move across Europe.

It’s pitiful and embarrassing and makes me so angry.

Because I am proud to be British and I am proud of Britain’s values, so when Mr Cameron turns his back on the needy and turns his back on our neighbours.

I want the world to know, he does not speak for me, he does not speak for us, he does not speak for Britain.

That was delivered with raw, unfiltered and entirely justified rage. These were not words that had been written for him. Much of the speech had been written by Tim himself with minimal interference from his staff.

The important thing about this speech is that Tim needed to put flesh on the bones about what it means to be a liberal. He concentrated on two areas:

  • Thinking the beset of people, not the worst – opposing the politics of division and separation.
  • Being the outsiders, standing up for outsiders against vested interests.

So often in recent years, our leaders have spoken in managerial, polished tones. Sometimes, they have been too defensive of what the Government did. Farron’s stance was instinctively unequivocal:

Liberalism’s roots are buried deep in anti-establishment politics, opposing privilege.
We speak for the outsiders, for the governed not the governors. The voiceless and the voteless.

He also talked about four key issues that he was going to be fighting on, which you may not find in a focus group near you:

  • Housing
  • Importance of staying in the EU
  • Green issues
  • Refugees

We know that housing is at the very epicentre of his political soul. He clearly understands the practicalities. He know and understands and feels  the damage that t insecure and expensive housing does to people::

Maybe your housing situation is comfortable. But the chances are that your children’s isn’t, and I bet your grandchildren’s won’t be.

Access to affordable housing affects us all because it is the entry ticket to society, to security and stability, to work, health and community.

Because without secure, affordable and stable housing how can you be sure that you can send your kids to the same school one term after the next?

How can you be confident you can keep your children safe and warm?

How can you apply for and hold down a job to feed and clothe them?

And, without this confidence, how can you have the peace of mind to concentrate on anything else?

The worry and the burden of not knowing if you can pay the mortgage, pay the rent, stay in the same place for more than six months at a time, is devastating to millions and millions of British people.

People often talk about moving house being one of the most stressful experiences in life. But for millions of British people, without a stable or affordable home, that stress, that instability, that uncertainty is a debilitating reality, every single day. And I will not accept it.

We will not tolerate it, so together we will fix it.

Note the challenge at the beginning of that. He’s asking people to look beyond themselves and their experience to understand what it is like for others.

In a fringe meeting for the Child Poverty Action Group on Monday where I spoke, a theme amongst the questioners was to ask how we could challenge the accepted narrative from the Daily Fail and others who peddle demonisation of the most vulnerable people in our society on a daily basis. We need to get Tim’s powerful words from the conference hall to the street.

His speech ended with a bit an audacious call for liberals in other parties to join us.

Maybe you are currently a Conservative – and you see your vote being used to punish working people on low incomes and to punish business by toying with exit from Europe?

Maybe you are currently in the SNP – and you see your vote being used to chase a second referendum while devolved services like the NHS are creaking at the seams.

Maybe you are currently in the Labour party – and you see your vote being used to pedal fantasy economics that will cause greater poverty and austerity.

I have this message for you.

If you are a liberal, why don’t you join the liberals?

If you are a liberally-minded person in another party which is not what you would want it to be, join us.

If you have never been involved in politics before but are dismayed by the blame, division, fantasy or fear you see peddled by others, join us.

If you have been a Liberal Democrat before and find your passion reignited, join us.

Because, now more than ever, being a spectator is not an option. Action is vital.

Go online now – join the Liberal Democrats today.

It’s interesting that there was very little bashing of the other party leaders and minimal criticism of their policies. His plea to Jeremy Corbyn to get behind the EU cause was genuine.

This was one of the best leaders’ speeches I can remember, and I’ve seen a lot. Our challenge now is to take it an call it represents out on doorsteps and take people with us. We can’t let this chicken soup for the liberal soul go un-supped. It will be interesting to see how Cameron and Corbyn respond.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Conference and Op-eds.


  • This speech was the perfect birthday present for me. Tims showed us, yet again, why we are Liberals.

  • Bill le Breton 24th Sep '15 - 10:02am

    Not only was it a very very good speech but he also did not feel he needed to “”””display”””” a partner at the end. His actions and choice of campaigns spoke volumes. It is surely clear that the next few months we have to concentrate all our campaigning energies and opportunities on changing the UK’s attitude to reach out a hand to refugees.

    Dare I say it; that’s our message in volume over time etc

    Every council group needs to table the following motion:

    This council will do everything in its powers to provide a safe haven for refugees in our community. It deplores the pitiful, heartless and embarrassing stance of HMG.

    Because this Council is proud of welcoming tradition of this City/Town/District and is proud of its values it refuses to turns its back on the needy and our neighbours from war-torn communties and those in inappropriate refugee ‘camps’.

    This Council wants everyone to know, that the Prime Minister does not speak for this City/District/Town/County, he does not speak for the people of this community, he does not speak for Britain.

  • While some of us may have reservations about Tim’s over-generous remarks about Nick Clegg and the handling of our coalition role, it remains one of the best speeches from a Leader at Conference over the past fifty years. It was good to hear a speech that was inspiring and without cringe-worthy sections. He can match Corbyn in being himself and that may be what the zeitgeist requires.

  • Peter Watson 24th Sep '15 - 12:16pm

    For several months, since before the election in fact, mental health seemed to be *the* defining feature of Lib Dem politics. Granted, it is a very important thing, but for Lib Dems it seemed to become totemic.
    Now, it is not mentioned much, with only a passing reference in Tim Farron’s speech it is not one of the “four key issues that he was going to be fighting on”, and Corbyn’s appointment of a shadow minister for mental health is barely acknowledged.
    Cynically, it is almost as if the prioritising of mental health was an attempt to engineer the succession of Nick Clegg by Norman Lamb that began even before the General Election.

  • peter tyzack 25th Sep '15 - 6:10pm

    Tim’s remarks about Nick were absolutely spot on, and they didn’t sound forced, he meant it. Tim will not be perfect either, but we must all learn to support our Leader in public, and if we have any negative thoughts we should avoid gossip and tell him direct, as any critical friend would. The public attacks on Nick by members were unforgivable, and did untold harm to the Party. Lets have no more of it.

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