In full – Tim Farron’s speech on post-Brexit racism

Here is the full text of Tim Farron’s speech last night on combating post-Brexit racism, which he delivered at Queen Mary University at an event organised with The Runnymede Trust:

Patriotism has too often been seen as the preserve of the right. And I resent that. I’m a patriot. I love my country, but not to the exclusion of others. That’s the difference between a patriot and a nationalist.

I want others to look at Britain as a beacon of hope, independent spirited, community minded, strong, maybe stubborn, but decent and compassionate.

And so, the rise in racist and xenophobic attacks following the referendum, fills me with shame. Those attacks are heartbreaking, they make me fear that my country has been stolen from me, because this is not the Britain I know, the Britain I love, because the Britain I know and love is better than that.

We all knew that the rhetoric of Farage and the Leave campaign could lead to a rise in intolerance.

In the referendum campaign this culminated in the horrific assassination of Jo Cox, a hardworking and dedicated MP whose commitment to openness and tolerance made her a target.

Maybe, that campaign revealed a level of simmering intolerance and hatred… but maybe the very tone of the campaign generated new divisions, new fault lines

Since the Brexit vote, this sort of venomous hate and closed mindedness has gained ground, we have seen shocking attacks, such as on the Polish community centre just down the road in West London, or the woman who lost her baby after a racially aggravated attack.

In the face of all that we now need to pull together not apart. In the words of Jo Cox, words that have been memorialized – we must remember that we have “more in common than that which divides us.”

We must be clear that the outcome of the referendum was not a green light to xenophobia.

We are a diverse society, rich in our varied culture, evolving in our culture as we have done for centuries.

Britain did not become Great Britain on fear, isolation and division. Britain did not become Great Britain through short-termist politicians who put the needs of one part of society above the rest.

One of the quirks of Britishness, that sometimes gets us gently mocked by our friends, is that we get squeamish about taking things too seriously. Politically, that makes us averse to extremism and the kind of hate-filled, short termist demagoguery that has plagued others.

We’re a country founded on over 2,000 years of immigration, each wave bringing new influences and culture, enriching British life.

Yet, the party leading our beautiful country….the party that should be celebrating our wonderful diversity wants to destroy the very fabric it is made of.

2016 has seen the Conservative Party make move after move that makes Britain a nastier, more divided and more resentful country. 2016 has been a year that has seen the end of David Cameron’s naïve but well intentioned attempts to detoxify the Conservative Party go up in flames.

This spring saw Zac Goldsmith’s disgraceful, racist London Mayoral campaign. Rather than celebrating the fact that the son of a billionaire could go head to head with the son of a bus driver in an equal competition based on the merits of each of their politics not their background, Zac chose to concentrate on Sadiq’s Muslim faith and Pakistani roots. For that he was rightly punished in the polls.

We then saw a European campaign headed by the man who is now our foreign secretary, based on fear and terror, pitching community against community. The disgraceful ‘breaking point’ poster, demonising desperate refugees, only one example of a campaign that sought to ‘take back control’ by forfeiting our nation’s decency.

And this Autumn saw Theresa May’s Government propose new rules that would force companies to record how many foreign workers they employed. A plan that even UKIP found distasteful.

It’s not where we come from that matters, it’s where we’re going.

The Conservatives are risking just that with their reckless obsession with overall migration numbers, instead of standing up for what’s best for Britain.

These are the actions of a Nasty Party, willing to play on prejudice for their own short-term gain. Some people used to tolerate the Tories being nasty on the assumption that at least they were competent. I am not sure what would now attract people to vote for today’s Tory party that seems to be both unpleasant and useless. Remember, the first impression that most international leaders, businesses and observers have of our country is either Boris Johnson or Liam Fox…

Well Theresa May once to her credit criticised the Tory Party for being the nasty party, but today, to her shame, she leads it as it gets nastier.

I dread to think what’s in store this winter – but rest assured the Liberal Democrats will keep fighting against his dangerous and divisive world view.

While 2016 has been a truly shocking year for racial equality and diversity in Britain, I am proud of the steps my party has been taking to ensure we get better at representing the communities we seek to serve.

In the Spring we became the first political party to integrate all disabled shortlists and specifically set aside spaces on target seat selections for people from other underrepresented groups.

In the Autumn, we went further and passed a Conference motion that reserves spaces for under-represented groups in our party committees – and also passed a Combating Racism motion

And today, I am pleased to announce that the Liberal Democrats will be conducting an independent review which focuses on the issues and barriers faced by BAME members in the party – with work commencing immediately this week.

The party’s President, Sal Brinton has been integral to getting this process started, and I am pleased to say that Lord John Alderdice from our Alliance sister party in Northern Ireland has agreed to carry out this review.

John has recently been in Canada, undertaking a review in the Yukon on relationships between the Canadian and regional governments and their BAME and indigenous communities and expects to report back next year.

As you can see from what the party has achieved this year, the Liberal Democrats are serious about combating inequality.

Whether it’s in our party structures.

In Westminster.

Or in communities up and down the country.

One of Britain’s great strengths is its mix of cultures, and despite the referendum result, an increasingly right-wing

Conservative government or an ineffective Labour Party too busy fighting its own internal battles – the Liberal Democrats are united in fighting to ensure that all citizens are made to feel safe.

And it’s not just the visible discrimination, like hate crime, that needs challenging.

Sometimes it’s the invisible discrimination that has an even worse impact on lives.

That’s why we’re calling for widespread name-blank application forms, mandatory reporting on the BAME pay gap, and an overhaul of the governments Prevent strategy so that instead of singling out specific communities and treating everyone as suspect the millions of funding that this project receives will instead be channeled into more community policing and projects run by grass-roots activists. While all parties agree that Prevent needs to be reformed, only the Liberal Democrats have the courage to say that the brand has become too toxic and only scrapping it will do.

Education also sits right at the heart of what Liberal Democrats stand for. It is the key to freedom and opportunity.

Yet – our governments have designed an education system – especially at primary school level – that is focused not on developing young people for later life, for work or for further study, but on getting them through the wrong kinds of tests.

So – while our curriculum has got better at teaching black history there is still room for improvement.

That’s why the Liberal Democrats are proposing an Education Charter that leads to a love of learning and a breadth of learning; that is relevant to what children will need next at school and in their future as adults. Not just for exams.

With less focus on meeting targets and passing exams, the Liberal Democrats would implement a curriculum that is focused on giving children creativity and confidence.

Learning about more about black and ethnic minority historical figures should be part of this, and would help empower children of communities who don’t see enough historical achievement from people who look like them, giving them the inspiration to strive themselves.

Talking of history, one group of people who I am sure will be on the wrong side of it are those who are doing nothing for Syrian refugees.

Current hostility towards child migrants, especially in sections of the media, will be seen in the future as embarrassingly small-minded.

Blindness to discrimination is good people doing nothing; standing up to racism and unequal racial outcomes is being on the right side of history.

And as we stand on the edge of those two horrific historic realities: Brexit and a Tory stranglehold on Britain, the biggest risk is that you do not join us.

So let’s be absolutely certain of this reality.

The only movement with the desire and the potential to stop the calamity of Brexit and the tragedy of a generation of Conservative majority rule, is this movement, is the Liberal Democrats.

So, you can despair if you want and accept the inevitability of a Tory government for the next quarter of a century.
Or you can recognise that the Liberal Democrats can prevent that inevitability.

We are the real voice of opposition to the Conservative Brexit Government and the only party fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.

Britain is one of the most diverse, sophisticated and innovative nation in the world and, in or out, we need to stay that way.

And we Liberal Democrats will do whatever we can, in Parliament and outside.

To reshape the way the nation works….to bring it back together.

To stay civilised.

To stay united.

To combat racism.

Because, wherever you were born.

Whatever the colour of your skin

No campaign of lies, hate and fear will make you a target in the Liberal Democrats.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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5 Comments

  • Lester Holloway 25th Oct '16 - 10:22am

    An excellent speech from Tim, which shows more ambition in challenging racism and prejudice.

    For the Runnymede Trust, an independent thinktank, this event will be followed by other speeches on race and identity from across the political spectrum.

    I thought Tim put the challenges firmly in the context of challenging negative narratives against immigration. What the party need to do is also focus on unequal outcomes for all peoples of colour, no matter how many generations of British citizens they are from.

    We must look at the research and devise radical liberal policies to tackle the invisible pollution of systemic and institutional racism and unequal outcomes, not be satisfied with protesting about visible pollution such as hate crime and dogwhistle campaigning.

    Runnymede’s Dr Omar Khan and Sunder Katwala from British Future – panel members at the event – both made this point in different ways, I felt.

    While policy remains a key challenge, the Lib Dem approach in other areas is becoming clearer. Rule changes to selection shortlists in winnable seats was an important step forward but will need careful monitoring.

    The long-awaited ‘Morrissey 2’ in the form of the Lord Alderdice review into the BAME experience in the party should be a valuable opportunity to both identify and spread good practice in making the party as welcoming as possible in terms of culture and outreach. But it must also not shy away from looking at progression and retention of BAME talent to be as professional as possible. I hope the process is forward-looking and does not give undue weight to ‘explainations’ and excuses for shortcomings.

    I thought Tim’s comments on scrapping Prevent were bold and very welcome. It was the right move, and comes after criticism from the all-party Commons Women and Equalities select committee, who said that the conflation of cohesion and counter-terrorism was to the deteriment of both. We need to flesh out the alternative and publicise our stance, particular in Muslim communities.

    For me, two quarters of necessary action on race are underway (changes to selections and a review into the BAME experience in the party). The remaining two quarters (comprehensive, eyecatching and radical policies to address race inequality; and far better outreach and targeted recruitment) are perhaps the hardest but arguably at least as important. All four quarters are, clearly, inter-related and inter-locking.

  • Great speech, agree with every word, except the blind spot about Brexit and its motivations. When, oh when, is everyone going to take a cold, hard look at the reasons why Britain voted out of the EU and realise the country is not seething with xenophobes? The media and all the political parties have jumped on anti-immigration feeling as the focus of Leave. But immigration, despite 1 horrible poster and a lot of blather, was not the Leavers’ main concern – that was recovering all law-making powers back from the EU, (see Ashcroft poll, 24 June) because the EU is becoming so inept that it presents a threat to its own member states. Sure it was a sad day when we voted out, given our shared history, but Europe is far greater than the EU and always has been. We will still be close allies.

    Remain voters and the media have assumed that Leavers who were indeed concerned about immigration were not only the majority, when they weren’t, but also that they were anti-immigration. But “concern” about immigration is not the same as anti-immigration and must stop being interpreted automatically as hostility to immigrants. I grant you that some nutters no doubt voted Leave and are indeed anti-immigration, but most Leavers were much more reasonable than that. You only had to watch the people of Boston on TV. They referred to their Polish neighbours as friends, citing babysitting arrangements and working in each other’s shops but said they felt it was important to get back the power to control immigration generally because of pressure on school places and GP surgeries. Frankly, it could hardly have been more heart-breakingly reasonable.

    So please can we stop the hysteria. Canada has control over its immigration policy. No-one thinks Canadians are racist xenophobes for having such control. So please stop demonising the silent majority of Leave voters as such. Not only is it grossly inaccurate but it is damaging the country. We are in danger of believing we are really like this, when actually we are generally much more tolerant than anywhere else in the world. If we pull this stupid wool away from our eyes, we should see it is entirely possible to bring about an open, tolerant and united UK outside the EU, in the best liberal traditions. Just look at Canada.

  • Annabel

    “But “concern” about immigration is not the same as anti-immigration and must stop being interpreted automatically as hostility to immigrants […] So please can we stop the hysteria”

    Sadly I think you will be disappointed. If the views expressed on here are anything to go by:
    https://www.libdemvoice.org/how-to-address-concerns-about-immigration-52126.html#comments
    Too many are keen to assume the worse of their neighbours (and potential voters).

  • Lester Holloway 25th Oct '16 - 3:18pm

    @Psi

    In response to the link you shared, if you have a Times login, can I recommend this article by Trevor Phillips: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/white-tribalism-has-won-so-am-i-going-to-be-thrown-off-the-bus-pb73t627p

    It acknowledges that it is not helpful to paint all Brexit voters as racist, but equally it does not help understanding the undercurrents by simply proclaiming that Brexit voters aren’t racist.

  • Lester

    Sorry, I don’t have a Times log in. I’ll try a few other routes to try and access to see if they work.

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