Tim Farron’s New Year Message: 2016 can be a year of hope and opportunity

The New Year is a time to look forward and it is as important for us as a party to set ourselves new goals and ambitions as it is as individuals.

I am determined that the Liberal Democrats face the new year with a new sense of purpose, a new drive and a sense of ambition.

David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn both lead parties that are fundamentally divided. Whether it is over Europe, like the Conservatives, or their leader, like Labour, both the government and the official opposition are at war with themselves.

This obsession with their own internal problems is bad for politics and bad for Britain.

For the Conservatives, David Cameron and George Osborne are more and more obsessed with appeasing their backbenchers, resulting in policies that are punishing people that are trying to provide for themselves and their families. To make things worse, they are taking a wrecking ball to public services, particularly local government.

With Labour, there is open disagreement between members of the Shadow Cabinet and Jeremy Corbyn. As they desperately scrap to hang together, they are failing to hold the government to account. They are giving the Conservatives a free ride.

The SNP and UKIP are just as bad. In Scotland, the SNP is letting public services deteriorate. They are pretending that decisions in London are all to blame, not taking responsibility for their own decisions in Edinburgh. As for UKIP, it can’t even get the support of its one and only MP.

We enter 2016, politically speaking, with other parties only really caring for themselves. Labour, Tory, the SNP and UKIP are putting their own party interests ahead of the interests of those that elected them.

This cannot be right. I have had enough of licking our wounds after the general election. We need to show how we can make a difference. While other parties turn inwards, we must take our inspiration and our motivation from the people around us.

There are two things that run in our blood as Liberal Democrats. We believe in standing up for our communities. And we believe in challenging power. Whether in Whitehall, local council chambers, in the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament, we will not simply accept the status quo and we will do all we can to stand up for the people around us.

Liberalism is fundamentally optimistic about the desire of people to take control of their own lives. Liberal Democrats believe that means having flourishing communities, with well-resourced, well-targeted and well-managed services that enable people to make choices to improve their lives.

And when those communities are threatened by government cuts that are driven by narrow Tory politics, we need to challenge those behind them and offer something very different.

Door by door, street by street, town by town, we will make a difference where it matters. We may only be eight MPs, but across the country we have hundreds and hundreds of councillors and even more members of the party determined to speak up for their local areas. We also have over a hundred members of the House of Lords prepared to challenge this government, just as they did when they called for the planned cuts to tax credits to be scrapped.

As Liberal Democrats, we have a gut instinct for things that are unfair and unjust. As tireless campaigners, Liberal Democrats need to take the fight to where the decisions are made: whether that is the community hall, the town hall or the House of Commons.

Labour have lost that gut instinct. Waving placards in Parliament Square, hurling abuse on Twitter and having Momentum wreak havoc isn’t challenging the Tories, whatever Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters think. It’s not going to stop a single library from being closed, or create an extra job. It might make them feel good, but it won’t make any difference.

Instead, it is the Liberal Democrats that are challenging David Cameron and George Osborne’s duplicity when they pretend to protect the police budget, yet sneak out a £200m cut.

It is the Liberal Democrats that are pointing out that, at the same time as Cameron and Osborne offer warm words to people whose homes are destroyed by floods, the budgets that will help prevent flooding in the future and help towns and villages get back on their feet are being cut.

And as the Tories U-turn on tax credits, it is the Liberal Democrats who have spotted their massive assault on working families through an extraordinary raid on Universal Credit.

The list goes on and on.

Things that are meant to make our communities stronger for the future, and help people make informed choices, are being swept away by this government. In just a few months we have seen swingeing cuts to the green energy sector putting 35,000 jobs at risk, Freedom of Information being eroded, protections for older people in care being thrown out, investment in mental health treatments delayed, plans for social housing to be sold off, politically motivated immigration rules, and a dogmatic refusal to do the generous, open hearted thing and support the thousands of people fleeing war and persecution from Syria.

And could there be a more perfect image of the need to challenge the way the Tories are running Britain than seeing David Cameron happily enjoying a Christmas Party with Rupert Murdoch?

Out of Coalition, the Tories are arrogant, deceitful and out of touch.

Britain deserves better.

The coalition set this country on a path to recovery. With interest rates at an historic low, we should borrow to invest in infrastructure, such as housing and transport, whilst recognising that the future of Britain lies in providing opportunities for young people to contribute fully. We should not be straitjacketed by an artificial and economically illiterate surplus. We should embrace the opportunity of the challenger economy, making it easier for small businesses and entrepreneurs to thrive and challenge the big corporates.

We must be proud of our role on the world stage. We must play our part in welcoming desperate people fleeing war, do the British thing in providing home to children orphaned by conflict. And we must stand tall in the world. In Europe, Britain can thrive. Together we will be a stronger and more prosperous nation, creating opportunity for future generations, respected all over the world.

And as I said at the beginning, we must stand up for our communities. We must make clear to Westminster and Whitehall that they cannot keep asking local government to pay for central government’s mistakes.

This year Liberal Democrats offer an alternative. 2016 can be a year of hope and opportunity. Britain can be a fairer, less unequal and more optimistic place, true to its values.

Standing up for our communities and challenging power. In 2016 we must do exactly that.

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

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  • Happy New Year Tim!

    I agree that we need to get out there and push a positive message. It’s not enough to sit back and watch the internal divisions of the other parties. We need to remind the public that there is another, better way, and that despite everything there are reasons to be optimistic. It would be a great achievement if we can persuade people to choose which box to tick on the ballot paper through hope rather than fear.

  • Thank you for the positive vision Tim. Happy New Year!

    As I have posted on these pages before, I believe that it’s also important that we prioritise sorting out the basic problems many people are facing as real freedom is so closely tied with fairness, i.e:

    – unaffordable housing, whether to rent or buy (rents in London are exorbitant with many young people having to live
    in poor housing conditions and shared rooms);
    – grossly inflated train fares (the highest in Europe at peak times) making it difficult for ordinary people to be able to
    afford to get to work or see their families;
    – increasingly weak employment rights (including terms and conditions);
    – unacceptably high tuition fees for higher educational courses (why are UK fees the highest in the world?);
    – an economy too reliant on the service sector, with a weak vocational training system (we need to look to the rest of
    Europe – we could learn much from their secondary education systems) ;
    – making the argument for raising much more tax to fund essential services, including for healthcare (possibly
    through local taxation); in some areas there is talk of rationing physiotherapy services – what about people who
    cannot afford these essential services to aid their recovery?
    – going all out to build a greener, hi-tech economy.

    Talk of defending ‘liberalism’ may seem a million miles away from the struggles and concerns many people have today. We also need to get the language right.

  • PS Sorry about the wonky formatting!

  • Dave Orbison 1st Jan '16 - 10:46am

    Oh dear, same old, same old from Tim – bash the Tories and Labour in equal amounts regardless of their policy positions.
    It always amuses me how some LibDems congratulate themselves in accepting a diversity of opinion on issues and that tolerating a wide range of opinions on any given policy is a fundamental strength of the party. Yet when there are policy differences with the Tories or Labour, they are of course ‘divided or split’ and that this makes it bad for the country.
    More astonishing is Tim’s dismissive attack on the value of public protest. Placards and the new-fangled thing called twitter apparently has no place and no effect in politics. Really? It makes Tim Farron sound more like Harold MacMillian than a leader of a political party in the 21st century.
    I would have thought anything that encourages and engages people in politics is a good thing. On occasion I think Twitter is a much more useful vehicle for debate than much of the nonsense that goes on in the House of Commons.
    In any event the LibDems are themselves obviously divided on many things; economic policy i.e. spend vs austerity, renewal of Trident and/or nuclear disarmament, bombing in Syria, the role of public ownership and so on, in fact to paraphrase Tim “the list goes on”.
    The Coalition was a grave mistake in my opinion. The austerity medicine has resulted in the dismantling of public services and the attacks on the vulnerable which has led misery, suffering, hardship and many suicides. This is nothing to celebrate at all. But even now Tim can’t get past the trite “The coalition set this country on a path to recovery”.
    That path of which he seems so proud, is directly responsible for savage cuts in funding to vital services to our communities – the very communities that he now claims from the other side of his mouth to wish to defend.
    Tim, have you not learnt anything yet? You cannot have it both ways.

  • @Judy Abel
    Given the excellent article you wrote last week, don’t you find it a bit depressing that Tim thinks it is “bad for politics” that people within other parties disagree on major issues?

  • @ Stuart. Thanks for that! Yes, of course there will be shades of opinion in other political parties, even major differences. We should let other parties get on with it, sort themselves out, and focus on our own task of developing innovative policies.

    It’s not that easy for Tim though; he is trying to rally people and it’s sometimes hard to know how to do that. I don’t think negativity about other parties will work though. Without radical and relevant new ideas of our own, we will really struggle.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Jan '16 - 2:09pm

    Good thoughts, but I would urge caution on the Lords. The public won’t like it if they are seen to be ignoring the election result.

    I’m happy for the party to approach 2016 with a big emphasis on helping those less well off, but it needs to be non-ideological. Or not really ideological. So campaigning for properly funding public services is good, but nationalisation or state funded mutuals probably bad. People are free to set up mutuals whenever they feel like it.

    A bit of caution needs to be maintained in spending too. One reason interest rates are so low is because global growth prospects are weak. Creditors are not just throwing money away for charitable purposes.

  • @ John There’s nothing wrong with those ideas John, but we also need to have policies that relate to people’s daily lives. We cannot always live at the more ‘conceptual’ level – and things change. There is far more inequality now and we need to address that. We need to look, listen and understand and not just promote the same agenda to the exclusion of other ideas. I suppose it’s about evolving or becoming extinct.

  • Tim Farron …. do you ever read the comments addressed to you in LDV? If so …

    I reckon you’ll need to be as feisty as my Jack Rascal terrier in 2016! Attributes include – having a mind of her own and making her voice heard! And she enjoys tackling large bones!!

    So ‘terrier’ Tim …. may I wish you a Successful New Year leading our party forward again.

  • nvelope2003 2nd Jan '16 - 11:29am

    Judy Abel: Train fares are high because the railways cost so much to run. We need to look at other ways to provide public transport now that the Victorian age has long gone. Maybe even the railways could be run more efficiently but if the users do not pay the bill who pays ?

    For social and leisure activities there is a network of Express Coach services throughout the UK which unlike the railways operates every day of the year including Christmas Day in recent years. These services are provided not just by National Express but also by Megabus and some independent operators though you would never know about it if you relied on the media for information as they seem obsessed with trains. Most of “Today” seemed to be about a 1% rise in train fares while other price rises of things everyone needs are never mentioned yet barely 7 or 8% of travel is by train and 70% of that is in the London Commuter area.

  • Dave Orbison 2nd Jan '16 - 12:27pm

    nvelope2003 – “train fares are high because the railways cost so much to run”. Well this hardly addresses Judy’s point about UK train fares being the highest in Europe at peak times. Why should this be? Competition has done nothing to reduce prices. You advocate buses as a cheaper alternative, Why not go further and use a pony and trap, cheaper still?

    If we want to be a competitive economy we need decent infrastructure in the UK, a mobile workforce and affordable pubic transport. The case for bringing the railways back into public ownership is very strong. Now then Tim – a simple question on the public ownership of railways, are you For or Against? Your answer would establish at least one clear LibDem policy position.

  • nvelope2003 4th Jan '16 - 1:07pm

    Dave Orbison: The “railways” – the track and signalling have been in the public sector since Railtrack was closed in 2001/02. There has been a huge programme of investment since then, paid for by the taxpayer, but the system does not seem capable of coping with the number of trains being run by the private sector train operators even though they are only allowed to run the services prescribed by the state at the fares laid down by the Government for peak travel. There is very little competition as it is not allowed except on a few routes from the North East of England and the routes from London to Birmingham and Exeter where there is a very marked difference in fares between Virgin and Chiltern and between GWR and SWT.

    I was not suggesting replacing the railways with Express Coaches or pony and traps (what a silly comment) but pointing out that there were more flexible options available in certain circumstances which were given little or no coverage by the train obsessed media. I suppose their employees would only consider using them when they are not in their cars or taxis as they are mostly public school types who would not go on a bus .

    Many studies seem to indicate that the cost of running the railways is much higher here than in other countries hence the higher fares. We need to address this matter urgently. If we do not then fares will have to keep rising and this is not fair on those who need trains. Even an infrequent user of trains must be frustrated by the endless signal and poits failures which delay services. On my local line millions were spent renewing the signalling but it is worse that what went before. Thank you Network Rail. This matter needs to be independently investigated but that will never happen.
    Meanwhile the public sector gravy train goes on.

  • nvelope2003 4th Jan '16 - 1:15pm

    Only the public sector can carry out investigations so it is hardly surprising that they normally whitewash public sector failures unless evidence is so overwhelming that they are unable to do so. In those cases the ordinary workers will be blamed when it is was management/ Government failure which caused the problem. How do we deal with this ?

  • Martin Peters 4th Jan '16 - 8:14pm

    I left the party in 2012. I was bemused when other members seemed so fatalistic and unconcerned about the drop in support. The party had a devastating defeat in 2015 . Isn’t it now time to consider radical moves without which the party wont gain any attention or appear to have learned from it’s mistakes ie a Labour clause 4 moment like in 1994. Perhaps the party should become the Liberal Party again or bring back the Social in the name Social and Liberal Democrats. Either that or it could rule out any coalition with a governing party that loses it’s majority ie it will only be party of an entirely new government.

  • nvelope2003 6th Jan '16 - 9:20pm

    Martin Peters: Are you sure that other members are unconcerned about the drop in support. I do not get that impression from the posts here although there are some who seem to think that by elections are “fun events” and regard fighting hopeless seats getting 3.7% of the vote as a triumph.

    Tim Farron is getting more attention in the media now and the BBC are not automatically calling on the SNP for the third party view. I have heard Tim several times recently – maybe it is because he has something interesting to say and the SNP certainly do not. They sound as though they are speaking from an SNP version of the Westminster Confession of Faith circa 1640 – no arguments, we know we are right and don’t you forget it.

    Although the opinion polls are pretty dire for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, in actual elections both are experiencing modest improvements while the opposite is the case for UKIP and the Greens, UKIP having had catastrophic falls in support and the Greens barely registering any votes.

    The main problem for the Liberal Democrats is that their views and outlook are shared by only a minority of the voters. It is going to be very hard to change that attitude overnight. We must be in for the long haul and many of us may not live to see it happen.

  • Galen Milne 6th Jan '16 - 11:58pm

    You leads and we will follow

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Jan '16 - 1:27am

    When someone now says “it’s time for a Labour government” I find it quite frightening. It really isn’t time for a Labour government – sort yourselves out first. Lib Dems need to be making big inroads.

    I don’t mind if Tim wants to sweep up some Labour votes, especially in inner cities where I think Lib Dems need to become more established anyway, but don’t be doing anything too divisive. Party management is important, especially considering there is not much proper opposition to the Conservatives.

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