Tim Farron tells it straight: a disappointing, distressing, devastating first year… but Lib Dems remain determined

It’s not often that forewords to the Lib Dem conference directory by the party president make media headlines. But Tim Farron’s honest appriasal of the past 500 days of the Lib Dems in Coalition has done just that — ‘Naive’ Liberal Democrats have suffered a loss of identity, says Tim Farron in The Guardian.

The article is very Tim: blunt, honest… but also optimistic. Here’s his unspun assessment:

The last 12 months has been a bit of a roller coaster for the party, with some fantastic highs reached as we entered into government, followed by some extreme lows in the wake of the disappointments in May. … But let’s be realistic. The consequences of being in power and of not getting our messages across to the public at large have been particularly distressing.

… it’s how you pick yourself up and move forward in the wake of great disappointment that defines you, and I fully believe that the best way to answer these losses is to use this conference as an opportunity to come back together, and address the issues and the problems we are facing together. …

It may have been naive of us not to realise the threat we faced as the smaller party in a coalition government, that does not have a single media outlet fighting our corner. But we absolutely cannot wallow in self pity; we must identify our threat, respect it and then show complete determination to overcome it.

You can read Tim’s article in full here (PDF) on page 4.

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5 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 10th Sep '11 - 4:27pm

    The Guardian says: “Senior Lib Dems said they were relaxed with Farron’s message which was approved by Nick Clegg’s office. They said it was right to address the concerns of party members who lost council seats in May. But they said the criticisms voiced by Farron applied to the party’s performance before May. Lib Dem ministers have since been more assertive in government, notably over NHS reforms.”

    Who do the Guardian think are ‘Senior Liberal Democrats? More worrying, do these ‘seniors’ think they are more senior than an MP who is President of the Party?? What sort of newspaper thinks that the president of the Party has to have his Conference Speech ‘approved’ (as opposed to seen) by teenage scribblers in the Leaders’ Office? Who, and with what authority decides to spin the line that the criticism of the Party’s performance ends in May? I am not saying that it does or doesn’t but surely only one person could tell them whether that is so and that is Tim himself.

  • In May 2010 we did 2 things the voters didnt like, we entered Government & we formed a Coalition.
    By entering Government we took responsibility for both the Cuts & The Economy, so we get some of the blame.
    By forming a Coalition we made people think, blurred lines, made Politics more complex. We cant expect thanks for any of those.

    AS Voters get used to the new world some of the voters we lost in May 2011 will return but how many & how soon we cant know till it happens. We have to grit our teeth & hang on.

  • Re. Tuition Fees .. “failure to communicate is a reference to the row over tuition fees. There is a agreement in the party that ………. Lib Dem minsters failed to explain the benefits of the new system”. No amount of ‘communicating’ or ‘explaining’ the Tuition Fees mess would have helped the LibDems one bit. The fact was, and is. that the Liberal Democrats garnered lots of votes at the last General Election (mine included) because of their ‘new’ politics; of their claim to ‘honesty; and their promise not to do in government the opposite to that which they had promised. After the election the LibDems performed the most staggering U-turn, one which appeared to many as thoroughly dishonest and cynical – in view of their pre-election lofty promises. Nothing, no amount of explaining or communicating could change that simple fact. That U-turn had importance for LibDems far beyond the education debate, it defined LibDems as untrustworthy. Absolutely lethal, and totally self inflicted.

  • Tony Dawson 11th Sep '11 - 7:03pm

    “In May 2010 we did 2 things the voters didnt like, we entered Government & we formed a Coalition.”

    This, if you are suggesting it is even half the reason for electoral fall-off, is not true. The worst thing by far was the total ineptness over tuition fees, not because too many people were directly concerned about tuition fees, but because a lot of people supported Lib Dems on the ‘Trust’ agenda. The tuition fees fiasco (and the rubbish talked by Nick Clegg about his deficit reduction position) suggested to many people who wouldn’t recognise a tuition fee from a green fee that Lib Dem ministers could not be trusted any more (and possibly less) than the two ugly sisters: they had been sold a pup.

  • I suppose it is incumbent on the President of the party to try to keep spirits up when things are not going well. Tim is obviously correct that things were worse for us during 1989, and we have heard Paddy Ashdown and others making a similar point at times. But there were aspects of that time which could have been expected, a tough struggle to launch a new party, elements not reconciled to the new, disagreements about name etc that aren’t present now. Those issues could in part have been anticipated, and when David Steel took his courage in his hands and called for merger, he knew he would be opposed to the end by David Owen.

    The situation now, as Tony says here, is one of a widespread lack of trust, and the hijack of the whole of the party by what is in essence a minority within it. I do not fully understand how it has happened, and it is a severe challenge to all of us, and the electorate who have previously supported us. 1989 was an organisational and campaigning challenge, and an attempt to ensure enough people took the party seriously enough to vote in large enough numbers to keep it in existence. This is a political and ideological challenge, and a need to show the public we retain the same strong principles we had prior to the 2010 election. If Paul Barker is right about what voters didn’t like (going into Coalition) it is a counsel of despair, as there is now little we can do to demonstrate how we can regain trust. Even if the economy were to “recover”, we would get little credit, and our narrative has been poor as to why we changed our minds so dramatically on entry to Govt. Lib Dems have acted as if we are on the job trainees, instead of asserting from day one of the negotiations what we needed to do. IF, at that point the Tories would not go along, we would have had a credible explanation to put to the public about why we had not formed a coalition with them.

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