Tim talks to a room of students – and energises the #LibDemFightback in Newcastle


Students at NUSU Tim Talks

Of all the drops in the Liberal Democrat vote in May, the drop in the 18-24 vote was harshest. From 30% of the total vote of this age group in 2010, our vote collapsed to just 5% in May. Hope springs eternal in Newcastle, though – and we were delighted to welcome our leader, Tim Farron, in hosting a ‘Talk to Tim’ event at the Newcastle University Students’ Union on Monday night.

Tim was in fine form, answering questions from the packed room of well over 100 students on issues ranging from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to fracking and from the government’s proposed Teaching Excellence Framework for Higher Education to just what, exactly, is the point of the Liberal Democrats.

The questions were reasoned, varied and detailed. If this event was any indication, if we listen to young people and show that we genuinely care about what they have to say, we will win their respect and, in time, win back their support.

Tim Farron's q and a at Newcastle UniOn the point of the Liberal Democrats, Tim was clear – the last eight months have served as ample demonstration, both to young people and to the wider population, of the value of having a strong Liberal party in British politics. Cuts to maintenance grants for poorer students would not have happened if the Liberal Democrats were in government to restrain the Tories from acting on their worst tendencies. 

Tim made clear that the Liberal Democrats will puff out our chests, punch above the weight of our mere eight MPs, and take for ourselves the political space vacated by a Labour Opposition talking to itself about itself, not to the country, at a time when this Tory government needs an effective opposition.

He was pithy and self-aware with it – an approach which certainly won the approval of the room.

The question on tuition fees was inevitable, but at least came first, and was dealt with by Tim with characteristic honesty and candour. It was about trust, Tim said – the policy we delivered in government was marginally less terrible than the one it replaced, but that made not a jot of difference to the reputational hit the breaking of that very publicly made pledge not to raise fees did. As Tim told the room, reputations in politics take years to build and seconds to destroy – we are fortunate to have a leader who gets just why young people abandoned us in their droves at the last general election, and who gets that the only way to rebuild our shattered reputation amongst this constituency is to connect with them, one by one, and show that their concerns are our concerns.

Tim has frequently said that if the Liberal Democrats did not exist, it would be necessary to invent us – and on last night’s showing, there are many young people out there who will be willing to listen to what we have to say. Let’s do as Tim says, assume the right to take the space Labour doesn’t want, and rebuild our reputation amongst young people as a progressive party which cares about them.

* Stephen Howse recently worked for a Lib Dem MP and is now working for a not-for-profit while campaigning for the party in Newcastle.

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10 Comments

  • Peter Watson 27th Jan '16 - 3:40pm

    “the policy we delivered in government was marginally less terrible than the one it replaced, but that made not a jot of difference to the reputational hit the breaking of that very publicly made pledge not to raise fees did”
    Hearing that from Tim Farron is very refreshing and restores my faith in him a little.

  • What do you think would happen to the tories if they announced to pensioners that they were sorry for promising the triple lock and that the state pension had to in fact be reduced by two thirds immediately for the good of the country and they weren’t sorry for doing this, just for the manifesto promise?

    If that were to happen the conservative vote would collapse, they’d lose the most important part of their voter base. Of course the conservatives would not be stupid enough to actually alienate their course supports like this, but this is exactly what the lib dems did to their voters.

    But that is the past, the question is how best to move on now.

    To understand how best to move on the party first need to accept that they cannot have their cake and eat it.

    If the party wish to utterly repudiate the coalition and make their sincere apologies for everything and promise never to do anything like it again they might be able to win those voters back come time.

    However if the party genuinely believe that the coalition was right they should defend it and stand on their record, but that means standing on all of their record (the discriminatory bedroom tax as well as popular £10k tax free earnings) and accept that most of those voters won’t be back.

    The party needs to understand where it is, it cannot be in both places at once.

  • Great that Tim understands about the broken promise. He’s doing well.

  • John Roffey 30th Jan '16 - 7:16am

    Carl Gardner 30th Jan ’16 – 1:26am
    “I think the most important lesson the LibDems have to take from the coalition is not that they shouldn’t have broken their promise on tuition fees. It’s that they should never have made the promise in the first place.”

    Or perhaps – made the pledge – but also have insisted that the global corporations, like Google, Starbucks and Amazon etc, were obliged to pay their fair share of tax so that the funds to pay for the cost were available – with some over to restrict the harshness of the austerity measures needed!

  • David Evans 30th Jan '16 - 9:54am

    Carl, The Tuition Fees promise was not ” a silly, unreal promise they couldn’t keep in power,” but a fully costed option that was clearly deliverable if we had a leader prepared to stand up for it in negotiations. Sadly he wasn’t prepared to do it and indeed much later we found he didn’t believe in what the party he was a member of had as its policy. So what we need in future is leaders we can trust to do what they say.

    As it is we are now in a worse positon than we have been in for nearly fifty years and it is our ex-leader who led us there. Your so called “beard and sandals days” were much more successful than that.

  • While people like Tim keep saying things like “the policy we delivered in government was marginally less terrible than the one it replaced” he will get nowhere fast, most people don’t believe that. I’m not sure even Tim believes it because if my memory serves me well he did vote against it. LibDems need to understand that students were mislead badly and they – and their parents – need a proper, sincere apology and so far they haven’t had one. Both Nick Clegg and now Tim Farron have just made maters worse.

  • Peter Davies 30th Jan '16 - 12:25pm

    @David & Carl: The promise in the manifesto was fully costed and could have been delivered by a Lib Dem government. We will never know if it could have been negotiated in coalition by conceding enough other policies to the Tories. The pledge was something different. It was easy to keep in opposition but impossible in coalition. We should never have made it.

  • Peter Watson 30th Jan '16 - 1:09pm

    @Peter Davies “It was easy to keep in opposition but impossible in coalition.”
    Not impossible: some Lib Dem MPs voted against increasing fees, some voted for it, and some abstained (possibly the weakest position, still breaking the pledge but not supporting the new scheme, but consistent with the Coalition Agreement). It should also be noted that 6 Conservative MPs voted against and two abstained.
    Indeed, the Coalition Agreement indicated a willingness to break the pledge within days of the election and before Lord Browne had published his review (meaning that Lib Dem MPs did exactly what they had accused Labour and Conservatives of planning during the election campaign).
    The whole episode brought the integrity (breaking a promise) and competence (making that promise) of Lib Dems into disrepute and the party has still not recovered.

  • John Roffey 30th Jan '16 - 2:49pm

    Peter Watson 30th Jan ’16 – 1:09pm

    “Indeed, the Coalition Agreement indicated a willingness to break the pledge within days of the election and before Lord Browne had published his review (meaning that Lib Dem MPs did exactly what they had accused Labour and Conservatives of planning during the election campaign). The whole episode brought the integrity (breaking a promise) and competence (making that promise) of Lib Dems into disrepute and the party has still not recovered.”

    I find it very difficult to understand how this can be disputed – short of rewriting history!

    I have little doubt that the vast majority of those who were interested and remember the event would see it in exactly these terms.

    I would have thought it had been embedded in people’s minds by Daniel Hannan’s witty remark:

    Cledge (klɛdʒ) vb., intr. To make a promise that was never intended to be honoured; to deceive while boasting of one’s integrity. n. A false commitment, made cynically. E.g. “No one believes the LibDems will actually raise the state pension, it’s just another cledge”.

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100262125/cledge-a-promise-that-is-not-meant-to-be-fulfilled/

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