Tim Farron on “wicked” Tories, Nick Clegg’s integrity and making people’s lives better

Tim Farron Social Liberal Forum conference Jul 19 2014 Photo by Paul WalterOn Saturday, we brought you the New Statesman trail for their interview with Tim Farron. The main feature has been published today. They headline it “The Lib Dems’ Leader-in-Waiting” which is probably inevitable but annoying nonetheless.

Asked about potential coalitions, he set out why the Liberal Democrats would be much better performers in Coalition than any other party:

Do you want, this is the real million dollar question here, do you want the party that is second in the next coalition agreement to be some separatist or nationalist wrapped in a Union Jack or a Saltire? Or do you want the next party that is the junior party in that coalition to be sane, sensible, moderate and progressive? And if you want the latter, because the former is terrifying, you have to vote Liberal Democrat.

He was interviewed after his campaign launch in his constituency which was addressed by Shirley Williams. Thirty years ago, it was a book by Shirley that got Farron involved in politics. I had the same book and remember timidly approaching Shirley at the 1986 SDP conference to get her to sign it:

A pink-shirted Farron begins his speech by recalling the influence that Williams’s 1985 book A Job to Live had on him as a teenager. “I read that because I was a massive nerd and I was doing my O-levels, I did economics O-level. It struck me that what we were looking at in the mid-1980s was not the unemployment that comes from a recession that happens globally, which is a terrible thing but is an external consequence, a symptom of an economic disease, we saw unemployment, as somebody from the north west of England who saw a lot of it, we saw unemployment that was utterly and totally needless. And we saw people who were out of work essentially because the Conservative government of that time thought the way to crack the trade union movement was to make sure that they had no members because you kept people out of work and they couldn’t join a union. We had avoidable, unnecessary human misery caused by a government that chose to act in a specific ideological way. And that is utterly wicked, that is utterly wicked, that is not bad government that is immoral government. And that book unlocked to me and as I did my economics O-level I thought ‘I am joining the Liberals’”.

Farron is also full of praise for Nick Clegg:

I’ll tell you the thing I am most proud of, most proud of, that nearly nobody knows about, is that there are nearly 3,000 children of asylum seekers who are not under lock and key now because of what Nick Clegg did with his popularity.

I hear Nick Clegg being attacked regularly; if you want to know the integrity of somebody, it’s that he spends his political capital, gets nothing for it and makes people’s lives better. That’s a man with integrity.

Sadly, someone, presumably in the Westminster Bubble, has chosen to say something spectacularly stupid to the New Statesman which does not return the compliment Farron paid to Clegg:

A Farron leadership, one source told me, would be “a regression to the Charles Kennedy era”.

A regression? To the days when we were pretty popular and took bold, brave and radical stands on things? To be fair, we have taken plenty bold, brave and radical stands in government, but that hasn’t translated – yet – into popularity. I just wish, not for the first time, that people would stop with this anonymous briefing against their colleagues. It is never going to help.

It’s annoying that what dubs itself as a profile fails to mention Farron’s vision of a new liberal consensus which he outlined in his Beveridge Lecture to the Social Liberal Forum last year.  It’s all about leadership and coalition and doesn’t give much attention to the values that motivate him – other than his religious beliefs. This couldn’t possibly be because his coherent vision of a social liberal society looks very good beside the paucity of ideas and values emanating from Labour, now, could it? Look at how dull Douglas Alexander’s “State of the Race” email to Labour activists is. At least our people focus on ideas – childcare, green laws, mental health, investment in NHS – in the emails we send out.

It’s notable that they also didn’t bother asking him anything about the Coalition’s record – because he’s normally pretty good at defending what the Liberal Democrats have done, perhaps?

They do cover, however, his comments about the importance of making people’s lives better by taking power after winning elections. The story of a family’s gratitude at his help in rehousing them will strike a chord with every Liberal Democrat public servant and those who work for them. As a former MP’s caseworker, I know how hugely satisfying it is to see people being given what they need as a result of your boss’s intervention. Farron drew the line between that leaflet you deliver, that phone call you make, and people’s lives being made better. Think of that the next time you are out leafletting.

I’ll tell you what, if she had told me that, I’d have said: ‘That’s very kind of you to say that, but I tell you what, you got rehoused because hundreds of volunteers delivered shedloads of leaflets and the Liberal Democrats won elections and we built council houses and that’s how we rehoused you. So you should be dead proud of yourself and I’m dead proud of you. Because we won elections we rehoused that family, and a thousand more besides, and that is what winning means, winning is not about holding office, winning is about making a difference – and I need you to win again.

This is far from an unsympathetic profile, but they could have done a lot better.

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

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  • I was optimistic about where this country could be heading in 2010, with the Tories unable to fully capitalise on a Labour government in freefall and the 2008 crises surely marking the end of the city of London’s dominance of the UK economy with Vince Cable making himself a remarkably popular figure. Somehow that optimism has disappeared.

    Can Farron do something about that? I’m not sure. It’s clear that Labour remains a flawed beast for progressive politics and then you have the protest movements of Ukip and Green. All I can say is can we have the Vince Cable from 2010 back again please?

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Mar '15 - 5:59am

    It wasn’t a great piece of work by the New Statesman. Caron is right that it fails to mention his vision for a new liberal consensus and given some of his actions I can see that he means this too.

    When it comes to coalition: unless we get a good program for government we need to walk away. It also needs to be a realistic one – current global growth forecasts are almost laughable.

    Finally, there is no plan for a leadership election, but when the next one comes along the more competitive it is the better.

  • You do not have to be Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple to work out where the anonymous briefings are coming from.

    I should remind everyone that these three sleuths are fictional characters who have appeared in many books but not one of them was in The Orange Book.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 4th Mar '15 - 9:06am

    Party members are well-aware of the Leader’s so-called allies and their remarks. Let these people give their names before we listen to them – they could be enemies and not allies at all. I hope the Leader is not involved in such practices but he should deny involvement and use his influence to root them out. Meanwhile, unattributed statements have no validity.
    Many people, especially those from other parties, are trying to destroy our great party for their own purposes – which are certainly not Liberal. This attempt to silence our principles has gone on since this parliament began. And isn’t it odd that the very things we are criticised for are now appearing in other party manifestos. Tells us a great deal of what unattributed statements are really about – namely, gaining votes for other parties.

  • Michael Cole 4th Mar '15 - 10:13am

    The Labour Party, with its inherent tribalism, likes to present itself as a progressive movement.

    It is in fact a major obstacle to progress.

  • Julian Dean 4th Mar '15 - 6:01pm

    @Michael Cole

    Progess as in to ‘cut, privatisation and roll back the state?

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