In Full: Tim Farron’s speech to Yorkshire Liberal Democrat Conference

Tim Farron has been busy today. Not only has he been opening our campaign headquarters in Oldham West and Royton (of which more later), but he’s been at the Yorkshire and the Humber Liberal Democrats’ Regional Conference in York. The core speech is not really knew – what he’s delivering as he goes round the regional conference is what they would call in The West Wing “Modified Stump”. Anyway, enjoy.

Here is his speech which is pretty much in full. You can’t make this guy stick to a script – and one thing in particular is how the joke changes as he goes round the country about who comes to the report sessions at Federal Conference. In today’s version he singled out Jennie Rigg along with former LDV co-editor Mark Pack.

Thank you, it’s a massive pleasure to be here – despite the inherent risk for a Lancastrian in crossing the Penines.

Then again, I’m told that York was actually on the side of the Lancastrians in the War of the Roses so I’m sure I’m amongst friends.

What’s more, there one thing that will always unite both sides of the Pennines and that’s discrimination from Westminster against the North!

It’s absurd that it takes me over an hour longer to make the 100mile journey here from my constituency in Cumbria than it would to travel the 200 miles from London. So let me start with a pledge: we need to be absolutely solid in demanding better transport links across the north of England and the early electrification of the cross-Pennine route.

That’s not just self-interest: if this government’s rhetoric about northern powerhouses is to mean anything then it’s time to put up or shut up and that means some real solid investment to enable the north to come together and really take on London and the south east – I mean in a spirit of friendly rivallry of course and we Yorkists and Lancastrians know all about that don’t we?

Welcoming new members

I have really enjoyed speaking at the regional conferences this year. Federal conference is all very well and good, but I discover as leader it can all feel a little remote. I prefer regional conferences where I actually get to talk to people – I mean real people – members – not just journalists and other politicians.

But whether its federal conference or regional conference, there has been one consistent theme – it seems every other person I speak to is a new member, driven to join the party by that wonderful, moving speech Nick made on the morning after the general election.

And these new members haven’t signed up to stay in their armchairs. They are activists. And they just keep turning up – 500 of them at Federal Conference. And not just at the Federal Conference, they even came to … the party committee report sessions!

When I was President you were lucky if six people turned up to the FE report – poor Sal had to cope with a room full of engaged people, keen to ask searching questions. And the constitutional geeks had to cope with the concept of actually having some company for this event!

The new members are younger on the whole than the average, and … they’re not jaded! We need to let them take the lead so their enthusiasm and energy rubs off on us.
So from now on, I issue this edict… the words ‘we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work’ are banned.

Core Values

In Bournemouth I sought to point out 3 things:

One Britain needs a party that is both socially just and economically credible
Two, Britain is teeming with liberals and only the Liberal Democrats share and will promote their values; and
Three, with liberal values under attack here and abroad, never has it been important for those liberals to come home.

These 3 things mean that for Liberal Democrats, we have never had more space, never been more necessary, never had such opportunity.

Tories and Labour

So our federal conference was a success. But it’s fair to say that neither the Tory nor Labour conferences were a disaster.

They can feel pleased with themselves …on the surface. Despite all the predictions of meltdown, Jeremy Corbyn had a peaceful conference.

But you see, that’s because he was amongst friends.

A few weeks ago he came back to parliament, where he isn’t! But you will not catch me joining in with the petty personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, he’s always struck me as a gent. We’ll leave the personal attacks on Jeremy to Tory MPs… and Labour MPs…

Is Jeremy Corbyn a dangerous threat to Britain because he doesn’t sing the national anthem, or because he was busy the night the Queen wanted him to join the privy council, or even because he wears a string vest? Of course not. All of that is his own business.

But, is it a threat to Britain’s security, prosperity and relevance if Jeremy Corbyn sits on the fence over whether we remain in the European union? Well yes it is. A massive one.

But I will play the ball, not the man. Which means that Corbyn is about as dangerous to Britain… as David Cameron.

Who also had a decent conference. Good conference speech. It reminded me of Ed Miliband… Ed made some good conference speeches, the ones he remembered! But he’d make a convincing pitch for being ‘one nation labour’ and then spend the next few months attacking businesses, trashing his own economic credibility.

Tax Credits

It’s the same with Dave, you can make a good speech pitching for the centre ground, but if your next act is to attack the hardest working, poorest people in Britain by slashing tax credits while giving away tax cuts to millionaires; you are in no ones centre ground, you are punishing people who are doing their best to get by. So I say “judge David Cameron not by what he says but what he does” and on that basis Margaret Thatcher was closer to the centre ground than our current prime minister.

Across the UK, over 2.5 million hard working families will lose an average of £1,000 a year – that’s more than 4 million children who are being made to bear the brunt of the Chancellor’s blind ideological obsession.

This is a policy that every independent organisation – from the Institute for Fiscal Studies to the Government’s own social security advisory panel – has said is ill-thought through, inexplicably punitive and deeply divisive.

In the House of Commons MPs described tax credits – and I quote – as a message ‘to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society that we do not care’. Another called on the chancellor for, I quote again, “something – anything – that might mitigate its harshest effects.” – and that’s just the Tory MPs.

So be in no doubt: this cruel, heartless, mean-spirited and misjudged policy is George Osborne’s Poll tax and we will fight it as we fought the Poll Tax. It will not stand – not on my watch.

That’s why it was Liberal Democrat Peers who sought to kill Osbourne’s poll tax once and for all in the House of Lords.

And we’d have succeeded too if Labour peers had supported us. Instead, they offered a watered down delaying tactic – a step in the right direction but hardly the bold, principled stand for social justice which Jeremy Corbyn purported to offer.

So the lesson for voters is quite clear: there is only one party you can absolutely rely upon to stand up for social justice, to stand up to George Osbourne and David Cameron, to stand up for hard working families – and that not the Labour Party, it’s the Liberal Democrats.

Snooper’s Charter

And it is only the Liberal Democrats on whom the public can rely to stand up to defend civil liberties too.

This week, Theresa May announced the reintroduction of her snooper’s charter to force internet service providers to keep a record of every text you ever write, every email you ever send and every website you ever visit.

Instead of stopping the security service abuses revealed by Edward Snowden, Theresa May is legalising them. If this passes it will give Britain the most intrusive, least accountable surveillance system in the Western world.

Dressed up as part of the battle against terrorism this is an enormous intrusion into our privacy, and a staggering attempt to grab our personal data on a scale we have never seen before.

That why, when we were in Government, we said no and blocked the snoopers charter.

We can’t do that alone any more but let me be clear: together with liberal MPs in the Labour and Conservative parties (and there are some) and liberal peers from all the parties in the Lords – with the full support of the other opposition parties – we could stop this again.

Unfortunately, that looks unlikely.

Jeremy Corbyn once voted against ID cards, voted against the mass retention of data and voted against draconian anti terror laws. We know what he believes.

But now his spokesperson Andy Burnham has signed up to supporting this illiberal, unjustified, misdirected Tory legislation.

Just as on tax credits, when push comes to shove, Corbyn’s labour party just doesn’t have the stomach (I could name another part of the anatomy) for the fight.

Look, I fully understand that opposing measures dressed up as being about keeping the country safe isn’t easy. It’s unlikely to go down well with the Daily Mail.

But politics isn’t about the easy decisions its about the hard ones. And under my leadership the Liberal Democrats will put our principles first, even when that means doing unpopular things in the long term defence of liberty.

Because leadership is political principles, not political calculations.

And when you start being led by such calculations we know where it leads.


Theresa May says immigration had damaged our country. I could understand that if she were stupid, but she’s not – she must know it’s not true. She’s just playing the gallery.

The uncomfortable truth for Theresa and those like her that would like to someone ‘other’ to blame for the challenges we face is that immigration has made Britain better off since the turn of the century; £20billion better off.

Immigration has made us a wealthier country.

Immigration has kept the National Health Service going; and

Immigration is why this small island is home to a quarter of the top universities on planet earth.

In fact, the uncomfortable truth for Theresa and her mates is that without immigration Britain would today be a much poorer, less interesting and less vibrant and ambitious place to live. That’s the truth.


And similiarly it’s true that Britain’s future prosperity and standing in the world depends on it remaining in Europe. And I’ll let you into a secret: David Cameron: knows that as well as you and me.

The offer of a referendum on our membership of the EU was not made out of any desire for democracy or reform, nor out of any doubt what outcome would be in Britain’s best interest, but because the Tory party is split from top to bottom on Europe. The referendum is a sticking plaster over that deep wound. Now our country risks irrelevance, insecurity, and instability as we fight a referendum that we must win.

The difference between David Cameron and me is that I would never ever put our country’s future at risk for the sake of party unity.

Although to be fair I don’t have to: because my party are already united. We will make the case for Europe whatever deal Mr Cameron can cook up, because the Liberal Democrats won’t play politics with Britain’s future in Europe.

Because Europe is all about the kind of country we want to be in, the kind of country we want our children to grow up in. Isolationist or internationalist? Closed off or collaborative ? Inward looking and insular or outward looking, decent, and generous?
I know what I want for my country.

And if it only meant staying part of the most successful peace process in history, which means that there are no longer nuclear weapons on European soil pointed at major cities and towns across Yorkshire, Humberside and the rest of Britain, well that’s good enough for me.

That’s where we stand: principle not posturing.

Fiscal Charter

And of course we have the fiscal charter – which we Liberal Democrats voted against – yet another example of a plan for the Government based on not on principle but on pointscoring.

It was designed as a great big elephant trap for the Labour Party. And blow me down, despite all the whistles and bells and flashing warning lights, didn’t they just jump straight in? … And out … And in again…

But the price of that little political hokey cokey was yet again the long-term economic stability of the country: forcing governments always to operate a budget surplus, means never having room to invest. What an idiotic proposition!

Fix the roof when the sun is shining says George. I agree. But if when you’ve got 0% interest rates and that isn’t the sun shining, I don’t know when is!

So now is the time to invest in our economy, to build the transport links from East to West across the north of England, to provide the homes, to invest in the green energy schemes that we need to underpin a lasting recovery.


Short term political stunts that damage our country… and over and over and over again, Labour dithers, unable to decide between looking after its own interests or standing up for what they believe.

Well at least no one could accuse our party of putting its own interests first. We paid a very heavy price for our time in government but it was the right thing to do, and we made a really difference.

You know people sometimes say to me “how could you go into coalition with the Conservatives?” But someone had to be in Government. Someone had to take tough decisions in the national interest.

So yes, maybe we could have left it to Dave and George and Boris and Theresa, but when you see what the Tories have done in government alone over the past six months, who could say anything but “thank goodness” we didn’t.


But given the tough, tough experience of coalition it would have been all too understandable for Liberal Democrats to say “we’ve had enough of power”. We prefer the easy life of opposition.

All too understandable and all too wrong, because real people have to live with the decisions that those in power take.

That’s why I am so proud of the Liberal Democrats here in York who have stepped up to the plate after Labour spent four years in power ignoring and alienating residents with unlawful traffic schemes, relentless cuts to frontline services, and flawed plans to build over York’s Green Belt. 
I’m proud of the joint administration we have formed in this city and I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Deputy Council Leader, Keith Aspden, and Stephen Fenton, Andrew Waller and their team on reaching an agreement with the Conservatives which will re-focus on the frontline services that matter to residents, devolve power and budgets to residents through Ward Committees, and make York the greenest city in the North.

Yorkshire succeesses

But that’s only possible because here in York, and across Yorkshire, well, boy, are you tough.

When, on May 7th, the party was being devastated across Britain, York provided a little ray of hope. Here, we actually gained 4 seats and I’m told that Cllr Ann Reid achieving the highest individual vote in the history of City of York Council! Many congratulations Ann.

And it wasn’t just here in York that we saw determined campaigners fighting back. It was across the entire region. Here, in Yorkshire and Humberside we retained two-thirds of our MPs – if only we’d have had the same results national, we’d have 35 MPs at Westminster!

In Greg Mullholland and Nick Clegg Yorkshire and Humberside Liberal Democrats has two MPs of whom we can be immensely proud. I

don’t think I am giving anything away when I say there could hardly be two more different characters, but at the same time I struggle to think of any two MPs who have contributed more to the party in their different ways, than those two over the past five years.

And Greg would never forgive me if I failed to mention our amazing work on Otley Town Council, which has now become practically a one party state. Now I’m not generally in favour of those, but in the case of Otley, I think I’ll make an exception.

And we had other successes at a local level in Hull and in Bradford so congratulations to all those involved in those campaigns including Geoff Read and Jennette Sunderland (in Braford) and Mike Ross, Abi Bell and Claire Thomas in Hull.

And we should also be proud of the campaigns we fought where we didn’t quite make it not least in Bradford East on behalf of David Ward. I am so disappointed that we didn’t get the result all that hard work deserved.

Unblocked ears

You know that was a massive injustice. We used to say where “we work, we win” but that was so clearly untrue in 2015.
But the good news is that since the election I am beginning to see people pulling their fingers out of their ears and listening once again to what we have to tell them.

So if you look at our results in by-elections across the country since May, you will see us making 13 gains, the best results of any national party: not a tidal wave nor a tsunami, but good solid progress based on understanding our communities, working hard and getting the message out.

So now people are prepared to listen to our message once again, I need you to help me to deliver that message.

Our message

A message that says to folks out there, if you are the kind of person who wants Britain to be greener, free-er, more successful, for Britain to remain in the European union, for poverty to be beaten by more equality and by economic competence, for refugees to be welcomed not demonised, for every individual to have decent place to live and job to do. If you are that kind of person, if you have those kind of values, then you need this kind of party. Then you need the Liberal Democrats to win. You need us, we need you. Go online now and join the Liberal Democrats today.

So help us get the word out.

Knock on doors, deliver leaflets and make an impact in whatever way you can because the fightback is building every day.

At this time of year I really enjoy giving awards evening speeches at local schools. I tell the successful students in front of me that it’s traditional at the end of an awards evening for the speaker to give ill informed, patronising, boring advice to the students… and I’m a great believer in tradition.

I often tell those successful students, well done, but you’re only as good as the last great thing you did! Bad news guys, I say, your successes are only temporary… but the good news is, so are your failures. Just temporary.

You see, May’s election defeat is an historic fact. But it is not a permanent state of affairs.
Is our survival inevitable? No. Is our recovery sure to be overnight, no. But is it essential – yes it absolutely is. Britain needs a liberal movement to survive, to thrive, to win again. The circumstances have contrived to create the widest ever space for our party to fill, we will fill it!

History calls, we will answer! Thank you.

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  • Early electrification?

    Do we want it done sooner or done right?

    Just asking …

  • There was a heckle – from the Calderdale corner, where else – at the mention of electrifying the cross-pennine route: “both of them”.

  • The region is called Yorkshire and Humberside. Please get it right – not everyone wants to live in Yorkshire.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th Nov '15 - 9:35pm

    Actually, Dave, is it not Yorkshire and the Humber? Apologies to all of you in the Humber part. I’m still full of rosy glow after a brief and wonderful visit to Yorkshire this week.

  • Humberside? some do like to live in the past, it was abolished in 1996. There are many who were and are proud to live in Lincolnshire.

  • Peter Thornton 7th Nov '15 - 11:39pm

    I drove Tim to the conference and we rehearsed the speech in the car. I thought it was Ok.
    But when Tim delivered it , the speech came alive and frankly I thought it was brilliant!

    It reminded me of when I was a photographer. You could have a bunch of snappers, all with the same cameras and the same scene. Some would produce artistry and others would do a workmanlike job. Tim is an artist!

    Yes, the words do need to be right but we really do have something special in how Tim can communicate and hopefully he will get a real chance to do this on the national stage – but that’s another challenge.

  • Yorkshire Guidon 8th Nov '15 - 12:22pm

    Given the backroom stitch up between George Osborne and local council leaders in Yorkshire I was hoping for an unequivocal pledge for a directly elected accountable and transparent Yorkshire assembly or parliament. That would certainly have put ‘yellow water’ between Tim and Nick Clegg and reflected the regional party’s own resolution on the issue.

  • Yorkshire Guidon: we had that debate and made that pledge last year.

  • A Social Liberal 8th Nov '15 - 11:21pm

    Funny how some are ignoring the debate and pledge and still trying to split the city cream from our land of milk and honey

  • Peter Thornton clearly caught the mood in York accurately. The queue in the rain of too many people trying to get into the Regional Conference was remarkable – how York fed us all I have no idea.
    Meanwhile nice of Tim to bracket me with Jeanette in tribute to our local campaigning (albeit with mis-spelled surname – something Tim has suffered from too). However while it was my Eccleshill Ward that chalked up a gain from Labour in May, the heroine of the hour was winner Nicola Pollard who swears blind it was ALDC Kickstart that won it for her. A woman to watch in future years!

  • Richard Underhill 25th Jul '16 - 9:24am

    When in Yorkshire talk about the corridor of uncertainty.

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