Tim Farron MP writes: Out of the Westminster bubble

I’ve been away from Parliament for the last three weeks. My wife Rosie had an operation (nothing horribly serious, but nevertheless debilitating) so that leaves me at home to take care of her and the children.  
Being out of the Westminster bubble means I’m hearing the news the same way everyone else does – not from nuanced internal briefings, or from having been in the chamber during PMQs or a particular debate, but from the radio, the papers, the telly and the web.  And I’ve not been discussing the issues of the day with other MPs but instead with mums and dads at the school gates.  
It’s an eye-opener as some of the really Lib Dem things that are happening in government, such as ring-fencing the high street banks and the regular meetings with union bosses to ensure co-operation rather than conflict when dealing with the strikes – are not being shown as our successes by the media… but then again, you already knew that!    
The upside to spending time in the constituency – aside from getting loads of constituency work done while the kids are at school – is that I get more time to talk to people, the very people who vote and put me in the position I love so much.
We must never forget who we serve – and while I feel bad for not being in Westminster –it’s an excellent excuse to get out on the doorstep or stand in the market square talking, and crucially, listening.
I have also spent time organising a motion to Conference, recommitting the Liberal Democrats to the theory and practice of community politics.  From my base in Cumbria I’ve been pestering conference reps across the land to sign up because it’s vital that we acknowledge the serious threat we face following May’s election results and the disappointment of the AV referendum.  
More than ever we now need to get out of the town hall and Whitehall, roll our sleeves up and decide that we’re going to make our own luck.  I am determined that next year’s election results must be much much better than this year.  
To do this we must build our infrastructure in a practical way, define our distinctive ideology, and stand proud of our politics – giving people clear reasons to vote for us (something, let’s be honest, we are currently lacking).  
Getting your hands dirty with community politics whether you are a minister or a new member has many positive spin offs. One of those is that if you are immersed in your community and its concerns, you will understand how people think and speak.  
And finally, in politics, it’s no use doing the right thing if no-one out there knows the slightest thing about it!  We need to get better at selling the message – both at a national level, and in the Focus leaflets which are still our best way  of getting our message across unadulterated.
I hope that in Birmingham (should my motion be accepted by the conference committee), we can have a real debate about the future of the party, and reaffirm our commitment to both the principle and practice of community politics.  Meanwhile, I’m off to pick the kids up from school!

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  • Sounds like a good idea. I’ve never been involved in party politics whether national or local so I don’t know what things the Lib Dems usually do. I’ve never had a local politician or party member knock on my door nor have I ever met one. I think a lot of people are the same and it would possibly make a big impression on people if they had someone knocking on their door, talking and listening to them and maybe even helping to solve any problems they have. Is there enough people at a local level to have a couple of people in each area of a town really get involved in local communities and be the link to the ordinary person on the street and the local council, school or hospital or any other institution that many people may feel they don’t know how to get the most out of?

  • Martin Pierce 1st Jul '11 - 11:23pm

    Really excellent piece Tim. First thing that’s made me actively think about rejoining the party for a while (I was a parliamentary candidate in 2010, but then somewhat surprised to find our leadership didn’t really believe in swathes of the manifesto). 41 years on from the original Eastbourne motion it would be very good to spell out what community politics means today in the 21st century – even since I was first elected a councillor in 1990 I would have to say that overall we’ve gone backwards in terms of community in the UK

  • David Evans 2nd Jul '11 - 5:14pm

    Spot on – we need MPs we can totally believe in and Tim is one of them.

    Get back in there Martin, we need lots more people who are Liberal to the bottom of their boots, to make sure the party supports activists and campaigners more than it supports administrators and committee members.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 3rd Jul '11 - 9:39am

    “giving people clear reasons to vote for us (something, let’s be honest, we are currently lacking). ”

    The activist base is not what it was. A precondition for a revival of community politics would be to give former activists (and potential new ones – if there are any) a reason to give their time and energy to campaigning for the LibDems. Can anyone think of one?

  • Thanks for this message from the sunny uplands, Tim.
    Party life is going to be a lot harder during and after the next election without the introduction of AV – regardless of what the public were told to think about it (@John McCreesh) – so I look forward to hearing of any progress made by that referendum enquiy you have apparently ordered.

  • “ring-fencing the high street banks and the regular meetings with union bosses to ensure co-operation rather than conflict when dealing with the strikes”

    1st is also a tory policy and i hardly think lib dem behaviour in relation to the strikes is anything to shout about given alexander announced the plans and said he woudnt budge before negotiations would finish

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