Opinion: Tim Farron’s Gut Liberalism


Last week I was on the train heading up to Guildford for a special opportunity to meet Tim Farron, potential leader of the Lib Dems. As I travelled I was nervous as any young party member would be. I was about to meet my first real big name in politics, someone who had taken his place in Parliament, someone who had sat on BBC Question Time, someone who had played the political game against numerous reds and blues. But what I did not expect was the passion I was going to feel after this meeting.

Tim spoke as he did a few days later after winning the candidacy about a new type of liberalism he wanted to introduce. This new type of liberalism was less a theoretical frame work but more an emotion and rejuvenation of what being Liberal meant. He coined this new experience, Gut Liberalism.

So what is Gut Liberalism?

Gut Liberalism, as Tim explained, was about reconnecting the political feeling back to liberal ideals. As Liberals we tend to pride ourselves on being rational rather then being emotionally driven. We often come to compromises and though we can be enthralled by our beliefs, we tend to often keep them within us so not to become driven blindly with our beliefs.

But the side effect of this is that it is hard to get others excited about our approach and sometimes, as we saw with the 2015 election, we lose our identity.  People didn’t know what we stood for in that election, they couldn’t feel any drive inside, any sense of will. People lost the drive in the party and this meant over the last few years we have drifted.

I believe, like Tim, that we need to refine that balance of rationality of ideas but also find a way to connect people passionately to those same ideas. Connect people back to the feeling of wanting to shout those ideas from the roofs. We need to start from the door step when voters open the door and see us. We need to be able to show them an identity, a feeling straight away, because only then will we have grasped their attention.

Tim explained in his speech about the lessons we can learn from the last election. One of these lessons that hailed a few murmurs from the crowed listening, was taking a lesson from Nigel Farage’s books in the sense of saying things that come from the gut. Saying and delivering ideas that make people want to get up and get involved. Now these do not always have to be radical ideas, but they do have to mean something to people.  I believe this is the key to Lib Dems rebuilding. As I said earlier the party needs to mean something to people on the door step. People need to feel what we stand for not in the head but in the heart.

I felt that was Tim Farron’s speech is a means to end. Now Gut Liberalism will by no means get us all the way into 10 Downing Street. But it will get us into the minds and more importantly into the hearts of voters. If we can do that with time people will engage, people will respond and Liberalism and Liberal Democrats will have regained the lost ground and be able to make the changes to build that fairer society.

For me Tim’s message was the first time in a while I felt that strength again, the idea that we can fight and we can win, but we’ve got to get others to believe it. This could be the start of something, a new Liberal Democrat with bite. A new Gut Liberalism.

* Nicholas Belfitt studied politics and international relations and joined the Lib Dems in 2014. He blogs at Liberal Ramblings.

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  • Mavarine Du-Marie 20th Jul '15 - 1:54pm

    “This new type of liberalism was less a theoretical frame work but more an emotion and rejuvenation of what being Liberal meant. He coined this new experience, Gut Liberalism.”

    Thank you for outlining where Tim is coming from in terms of a new concept of Liberalism, that broadens and bridges the enlightenment and romanticism in Liberal politics, which is equally important to hear as with regards to where we are going to as Liberal Democrats and makes us distinct from all other political parties.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Jul '15 - 4:32pm

    We cannot realistically hope to be “distinct from all other political parties” that would be a very small sect.
    We killed the poll tax, although Labour, SNP and others also opposed it. Should we lose interest in the bedroom tax because others also oppose it?
    Tim Farron’s speech to the rally in Islington included references to the need for allies.
    The campaign for the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade included evidence about kidnappin, imprisonment and murder of captives, but was also about what was happening to the sailors.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 20th Jul '15 - 4:37pm

    “We cannot realistically hope to be “distinct from all other political parties” that would be a very small sect.”

    “Gut Liberalism” is realistic and distinct in itself. It has never been tried before. So therefore also a refreshing change for this country to get behind.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Jul '15 - 5:15pm

    There is a picture of the late Cyril Smith on another thread.
    He voted in the Commons for capital punishment, according to Liberal Democrat News.
    Under Russell Johnson’s chairmanship the Liberal International in Paris voted against.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 20th Jul '15 - 7:05pm

    Perhaps more importantly, Hoxie Neale Fairchild has identified a very definite epistemological position which is:

    “The taproot of romanticism, then, is an eternal and universal and primary fact of consciousness: man’s desire for self-trust, self-expression, self-expansion. That is why the interfusion experience [of real and ideal] is so precious to the romanticist: by effacing all distinctions and boundaries it permits unlimited outward projection of personal energy.”

    Hence, my point of the broadened and bridges with regards to the modern enlightened romanticism of liberalism in politics.

  • peter tyzack 21st Jul '15 - 9:36am

    you misunderstand, Richard, ‘being distinct from all other parties’ simply puts us ‘out in front’ of all other parties. From there we will draw the support of those who are forward looking and with whom we can share our vision of the future. Another lesson from the success of Ukip is that they drew large support from people who had never been involved before.. and there are many more out there just waiting for us to inspire them..

  • Bill le Breton 21st Jul '15 - 9:56am

    We have allies aplenty. They are the millions who have no confidence in their political leaders and in the modern political process.

    Orwell (I think) warned that the greatest enemy of the wild elephant was the tamed elephant. Following the huge degree of social mobility in the 60s and 70s, the politcal establishment is filled with tame elephants – and to mix the metaphor – elephants who have climbed a ladder which they now spend their time removing.

    Well – it’s a blxxdy big ladder and we are going to make sure it’s remains in place for everyone.

    Got it?

  • Nicholas, great post. Politics is more about the heart than the head. Because Liberalism is rooted in the rationality of Protestantism and the Enlightenment we do tend to forget the heart. We think too much and have felt too little. We know in our guts that we want personally to be free and independent and that we care deeply about the communities in which we live. And we know in both our hearts and our heads that freedom and independence must be balanced with responsibilites to those communities. And then we let our minds get lost in the detaiis of policies and mechanisms to achieve a fair balance. Too often we have ended up as policy wonks desperately defending some detail rather than encouraging others to share our beliefs and join in the debate. Hopefully this will be a new era when we proclaim our Liberal ideals and encourage everyone to join in how we can realse them in the future world we want to build through our political activities.

  • Good article. Tim spoke in the leadership hustings about getting that feeling in the pit of your stomach that fires you up. We will all need to be fired up and totally engaged in the Fightback to get our messages out there so that people can see what the LibDems stand for and know that we genuinely care about the issues that matter to them. As Bill said above, there are millions of people who have no confidence in either their political leaders or the political process. The opportunities are there, it is up to us to make the most of them.

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