Tim Farron writes… Never has the political market been so crowded in the UK. Never has there been more space for a Liberal Party.

I cannot start this article without expressing my deep shock and concern for the families affected by the attack on Charlie Hebdo. It is stark warning that we can no longer take for granted the liberal order which our predecessors fought for.

It is a great honour to be appointed Foreign Affairs spokesperson and I want to thank Nick for giving me this opportunity. I am very aware that it is rare for foreign affairs to be the defining issue for most voters. But this election, as in so many other ways, is not running the usual course.

UKIP has brought the question of Europe centre-stage, pulling the Tories and Labour into isolationist stances or cowardly silence. I’m delighted to be working with my friend and colleague Michael Moore MP, who as our European spokesperson will help to make the case for ‘IN’ as part of a reformed Europe.

I look around at the political debate on international affairs and see an ever widening gap between what politicians say domestically, and what they know to be in our national interests.

Globally, it is clear that the power relations of the last 40 years are in flux. A shifting power balance from West to East, the rise of radicalism, the threat of IS, a defiant Russia, a dire humanitarian crisis as a result of Syrian conflict, all this alongside unprecedented threats from cybercrime, epidemics, climate change… This election will come in the midst of these daunting global challenges.

So, as I take this role, I’m struck by how vital our distinctively liberal stance on foreign affairs is – and how proud I am to be part of a common sense, liberal voice that is needed now more than ever. We need a strong Liberal Democrat voice on foreign affairs for our own country’s long term health and prosperity and globally.

Two key principles stood out to me as I take up this role, and I wanted to take a (very brief) moment to share why I believe it is crucial that we are known as a thoroughly internationalist and pro-European party.

First, we must be the party that takes the integrity of international institutions seriously. The nature of the threats we are facing is fundamentally changing. We face them collectively; no nation can tackle cross-border threats alone. We live in an increasingly inter-dependent world, where a bank going bust in one country brings global markets to their knees and people in your street lose their jobs or their homes; where instant social media broadcasts, organises or facilitates terror; where carbon emissions in one part of the world harm all of us and may impact most on those emitting the least.

As Paddy Ashdown expressed excellently in his ‘Third Law’, “in the modern age, the most important thing about what you can do – is what you can do with others.”

So anyone who thinks that our interests are best served out of Europe is, frankly, more interested in serving their own political interests than those of Britain and wilfully ignoring the importance of our EU membership to securing our economic recovery and projecting British influence and liberal values in the world.

Which leads me to the second principle – that our stance on Europe must be seen as one of hard-headed patriotism. We have allowed Tories and UKIP to hijack the phrase ‘Euro-scepticism’. As Liberals we are sceptical about all institutions, including the EU. Tories and UKIP, though, are not sceptics: they are isolationists. To be sceptical is to ask tough questions and hold those in power to account, Tories, Labour and UKIP do neither of those things. We should be unashamedly pro-European and sceptical about those who hold the reins of power within the EU.

In the same way, we must push for the UK’s Chilcot report into the Iraq war to be published. The delay has gone on long enough – key actors like Tony Blair and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw must be held to account. Jack Straw steps down as an MP in May – it is vital that the truth about Iraq comes out long before that!

Over the next crucial weeks, it will be a privilege to try and build on the excellent record we have as a party both historically and in this Government. We have defended and extended human rights, are tackling modern slavery, and can be proud for example of Lynne Featherstone’s work on FGM and Ed Davey’s work on climate change.

We have a strong record that we should be proud of and one that I will do my utmost to extol during the upcoming General Election campaign.

Our opponents’ tendencies are towards nationalism, externalising blame for our predicament on to others and a lack of ambition for our country when it comes to setting a lead for a greener, fairer, more peaceful world. We stand apart from that dismal consensus. I want to make our difference from the others stark and distinctive as we come up to polling day. Never has the political market been so crowded in the UK. Never has there been more space for a Liberal Party.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Refugees and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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13 Comments

  • Kevin McNamara 8th Jan '15 - 12:36pm

    Great article Tim but…. note to editors, Tim is no longer our President 😉

  • David Faggiani 8th Jan '15 - 12:37pm

    Here, here. Good to have a strong liberal voice stand out from the crowd. I hope there’s much more of this in the next few months.

    It might be best to quietly drop use of ‘IN’ though… 🙂

  • Simon McGrath 8th Jan '15 - 1:09pm

    What an excellent article .

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Jan '15 - 1:13pm

    This is brilliant Tim. The big guns have all started to get their messages right and we should fire away until election day.

    I seen an interesting post on Twitter asking if those on LDV could get behind the party more for the 2015 election. Speaking for myself: yes I will, but we are weary about our support being taken for granted.

    Best regards

  • Sadie Smith 8th Jan '15 - 1:26pm

    Welcome start; reassuring too, as my eyebrows went up at the announcement. Not sure why, other than the fact that the field of potential spokesmen was so strong.
    Please ditch Party of IN quietly. It muddles the message.
    Enjoy it.

  • “….., we must push for the UK’s Chilcot report into the Iraq war to be published. The delay has gone on long enough – key actors like Tony Blair and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw must be held to account. Jack Straw steps down as an MP in May – it is vital that the truth about Iraq comes out long before that! ”

    Well said, Tim Farron.

  • paul barker 8th Jan '15 - 7:55pm

    Excellent piece. Please keep “The Party of IN”, we get slagged as Pro European anyway, we might as well be Loud & Proud.

  • Finally something I can rally around and fight for in the general election. Since losing Jeremy Browne’s presence in the FCO, our contribution on international affairs has been ephemeral. Trusting that we will have a strong foreign affairs section ib our manifesto driven by these principles.

  • Excellent piece Tim. Well drawn distinction between scepticism and isolationism which indicates a strong intellect for the long haul. Power to your elbow (from your friends to the west!)

  • I’m so glad Tim talks about a reformed Europe but you have to read this otherwise excellent article very closely to spot it. Everyone knows we’re the party of IN but can’t we lead on the reforms we want to see?

  • Burberry Blue 9th Jan '15 - 6:35pm

    It is the EU that is isolationist, not UKIP. UKIP wants the UK to open up trade with the Commonwealth — 2 billion people — the US — 350 million people — China — 1.5 billion people — and the EU — 500 million people. The UK can only achieve this by shaking off the 1970s-style customs union.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th Jan '15 - 8:44am

    Never has there been more space for a Liberal Party … of a similar nature to that envisaged above and elsewhere in Tim Farron’s writings.

  • Kevin McNamara 10th Jan '15 - 2:20pm

    @Burberry Blue

    The Commission is busy negotiating trading deals with Canada and the USA. The Commonwealth as a whole doesn’t even have free trade *with each other*, how would we go about negotiating free trade with all of them simultaneously?!

    As for China, they would never negotiate with a country as small as the UK – hence why EU is our best shot.

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