Tim’s best bits #1: That first speech as leader

At midnight on Wednesday night, the mantle of Liberal Democrat leadership will pass from Tim Farron to Vince Cable.

Over the next day or so, in the tradition of our finest reality tv shows, we’ll remind ourselves of some of Tim’s best bits.

The frist is that amazing speech he made the night he became leader, just two years and two days ago. The text is below.

For years, I sat where you are now.

I joined this party when I wFor years, I sat where you are now.

I joined this party when I was 16 years old. I’ve watched some great liberal leaders give some incredible speeches.

Steel. Ashdown. Kennedy. Campbell. Clegg. Imagine following in their footsteps? To say it is an honour is an understatement of epic proportions.

I remember sitting in the winter gardens at Blackpool watching paddy give his first speech as leader in 1988. And I remember feeling guilty because I’d left home in Preston that morning and there on the kitchen table was my round of focus leaflets I’d not yet delivered. I returned home to find that my Mum had done them for me.

So, I get to lead the party I joined as a kid.

Thank you. I will work every day to repay the trust you have put in me.

And there is someone else I want to say thank you to as well – Norman Lamb.

Norman is an outstanding liberal, who’s been a mentor to me since I became an MP. I got bored of hearing my own voice during the leadership campaign, but not bored with Norman. As I consider Norman’s achievements on improving mental health I am reminded how vital it is to win elections, so that we can make that kind of a difference again.

If there were more Norman Lambs in politics, people’s opinion of politicians would be so much better.

They said of Jo Grimond that he gave politics a good name – I don’t go around comparing people to Jo Grimond lightly, but Norman is exactly in that mould.

I am proud of his achievements in government and I will be incredibly proud to work alongside Norman as we rebuild our party. To Norman and to all of his team who’ve fought a great campaign, we owe you a huge debt of thanks.

Do you remember where you were on the morning of the 8th May?

I don’t ever want to feel the way that I felt on that morning again. I was completely gutted.

I watched people I’d worked alongside for years lose their seats when I knew that every single one of them has given blood, sweat and tears for their constituents and for their country.

It felt overwhelming, desperate, heartbreaking.

But that morning something happened that snapped me out of it.

I saw a great leader give an incredible speech.

Nick Clegg stood up, after what must have been one of the very worst nights of his life, and with dignity and humility and great, great clarity, he said:

On the morning of the most crushing blow to the Liberal Democrats since our party was founded it is easy to imagine that there is no road back, but there is – because there is no path to a fairer, greener, freer Britain without British Liberalism showing the way. This is a very dark hour for our party but we cannot and will not allow decent liberal values to be extinguished over night. Fear and grievance have won, liberalism has lost. But it is more precious than ever and we must keep fighting for it.

There was not a dry eye in the house, mine included.

To go through what Nick had been through that night and come out with words of such passion and gravitas and sanity – well that’s the mark of a truly remarkable man.

And all of a sudden, instead of feeling desperate , I felt proud.

proud of every single one of my colleagues in parliament.

proud of Nick and all of our ministers who served in the coalition government – Vince and Ed, Jo and Danny, Lynne and Norman, Simon and Susan and everyone else. You get involved in politics to get stuff done, well we got stuff done. And we owe it to Nick.

Thank you.

So Nick’s speech made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

I felt proud to be a Liberal Democrat.

And you know what, I clearly wasn’t the only one.

Because what happened next constitutes a phenomenon. Almost 20,000 people have joined our party since that morning. And that is a phenomenon: 20,000 people chose to do the same thing, at the same time, for the same reasons without anybody asking them.

At hustings up and down the country, I have asked new members to raise their hands so let’s do it one more time: raise your hand if you’ve joined the party since the election….

…A new army of Lib Dem members, – approaching 20,000 now – who are not prepared to see liberalism disappear in our country.

People question how we can come back from such a devastating defeat? Well, I can introduce you to 20,000 answers.

You know, it’s almost like you can see this great big penny dropping for the British public, first with the Queen’s speech and then the budget.

What’s this, the Tories want to scrap the Human Rights Act?

They want to snoop on our emails?

They want to flog off housing association homes?

They want to cut billions of pounds from some of the poorest families in our country?

If only there was some way to stop them.

Oh…right…that’s what the Lib Dems were doing.

Now day after day we get reminders: Tuesday Today Programme listeners being told that promoting equal pay was a Lib Dem policy not a Tory one; yesterday the Guardian writing how Nick Clegg had fought so hard to get big money out of politics.

I found myself thinking “why couldn’t you have mentioned that before the election!”

They say you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

Well, you know what? We’re not gone.

And no matter how tough the fight, there is nowhere else for us to go, no other movement that is home.

You know, growing up where I grew up, in the circumstances I grew up in, you might have thought that the Labour Party should have been the party for me.

I grew up in a terrace on a main road in Preston. I was brought up by my mum, often struggling to put food on the table. I was politicized by watching Cathy Come Home. I should have been a natural Labour man.

But I wasn’t.

And why not? Because I saw that Labour were just part of the system, small c conservatives. 2 parties happy to collude and protect the establishment, locking out people like us.

I was an outsider, I wanted a party that spoke for me, that let you think for yourself, that wanted to win elections so that they could change lives not just so that they could feel self important.

And lives needed changing, a difference needed to be made.

I learned at first hand that nothing robs you of your freedom more than poverty and poor housing. I also learned that dependency can stifle freedom just as much. I saw the potential of people to change their own lives, if only we gave them the freedom to learn, freedom to earn the freedom to be the best that they can be.

In the election campaign which has just gone, we weren’t bad at telling people what we were against. But we were pretty terrible at telling people what we were for.

So let me be crystal clear what the Liberal Democrats are for:

We are the party that sees the best in people not the worst.

We are the party that believes that the role of Government is to help us to be the best that we can be, no matter who we are or what our background…..

That’s it. That’s our mission.

We see people as individuals not as opposing tribes, lined up against each other across borders.

We favour co-operation over isolation – your failure is not my success.

We stand up against the abuse of power, for entrepreneurship and individual endeavour.

We see immigration as a blessing not a curse and value the contribution every single individual has to make to this beautiful country of ours.

As the world changes around us, we see the opportunities and not just the dangers.

Because we see the best in people.

We trust people.

That’s why we stand up for the individual against the state.

Why we stand up for the minority against the majority.

Why we stand up for the outsider against the establishment.

Because that is not just what we do, it is who we are!

Because despite what happened on May 7th, this is still an open, generous and tolerant country, a liberal country.

And the pathway to our revival is visible even in that terrible result.

Because what we saw was that people are still looking for answers.

They are less tied to the old tribes of self-interest than was ever the case in the past.

Even with the collapse in our own support, over one in three of us could not bring ourselves to vote for Labour or the Tories.

So if we work hard and we strive to understand each other – not just people’s concerns but their values – we can win again.

You know, the Dutch. They are so liberal, they’ve got two liberal parties. The one that’s most like us, D66, were the smaller party in a coalition and then in 2006 got stuffed – 2% and 3 MPs, they came 9th! But last year, they topped the polls in the European elections.

So revival is in our grasp. Have hope. Have courage. Have belief.

We start our plan for the 2020 election right now. And the fightback will begin well beyond Westminster.

Westminster is only one brick in the governance of this country. It is a place I come to do a job for the people who elected me,

But it is utterly divorced from the reality of people’s lives. Home for me is Westmorland, surrounded by lakes, mountains and vibrant, self-reliant communities who share my disdain for the Westminster bubble.

And the challenges we face in the Lakes or anywhere else amongst the cities, towns and villages of these islands, are ones which we can help to address wherever there are Liberal Democrats – in Parliament okay, but also in the town halls and the city halls, the National Assembly in Wales and Holyrood, even Brussels.

Next year in Scotland, Wales and London we will see elections with the potential to change the lives of millions of people.

Those elections are utterly critical. They matter to me just as much as 2020. And they are the first staging posts of the comeback.

Ward by ward.

Council by council.

Seat by seat we will fight and we will win.

And if the Tories are really determined to make everyone have a metro mayor, we’ll just have to win those elections too.

It will take hard work, guts and bloody-mindedness. There will be defeats and injustices. Winning has never been easy.

We have no automatic right to bounce back. We have to do it ourselves. But we will. I’m going to make sure of it.

You see, losing robs you of the ability to make a difference. You know, as a party we have been proven right so many times: On Kosovo, on Iraq, on climate change, on the financial crisis. Do you know what? I’m fed to the back teeth of being right and losing elections!

As David Steel once said: “I am not interested in power without principles, but I am only faintly attracted by principles without power”. There is nothing grubby about wanting to win. You can’t change people’s lives from second place.

So here’s my challenge to you: pick a ward, any ward, and win it. Next May. I don’t care how you did on May 7th.

Winning elections isn’t rocket science, but it is a science. Do it. Enjoy the fight, enjoy stunning the opposition as the comeback kids prove them wrong. And be uplifted by the difference you can make when you win.

We may not be able to change Britain from the top down – not just for the moment – but we can change lives from the bottom up.

That’s community politics. We can mobilise our community to build the homes that we need, to win a local battle in the war against climate change, to get the resources to strengthen our schools.

I want more MPs, and before that I want hundreds and hundreds of new Lib Dem councillors, immersed in their communities, living their values by getting things done. Step by step, we will change people lives for the better and as we do that we will regain their trust.

You see our survival, revival, our rebirth our rebuild will happen in communities in councils in common rooms, away from the stuffy corridors of Westminster and Whitehall.

Many watched the horror of election night unfurl, standing as spectators all across the country, devastated by what they saw, powerless to affect what was happening.

Well, I’m telling you now – here in this hall and around the country, you are not spectators, you are players. You don’t like the way Britain is now governed? That makes two of us!

Lets stop complaining about it, lets do something about it. We will make our own luck, and we will do it together. It is time for Liberal Democrats to win again.

So, none of us joined the Liberal Democrats as a smart career move. That’s because we’ve never seen this as a career – that’s for the others.

This is a vocation, a mission.

So the Tories and Labour have their vested interests, and we say that we have no vested interests. But actually we do.

Our vested interests are the people in our street, our town, our village. Our vested interest is your vested interest. Our liberal voice is your liberal voice.

So lets together make our liberal voice stronger.

If you care about human rights join us.

if you think you shouldn’t have your emails snooped on join us.

if you think everyone deserves a decent home join us.

if you think its wrong to demonise immigrants, the young, the poor, foreigners, Brussels, the English, the Scots…join us.

If you are fed up of self-satisfied politicians ambitious for themselves and unambitious for their country… then guess what? You are a liberal. Embrace that diagnosis. It is an utterly decent and British condition. So join us, join us today.

Liberals of Britain, if you want a better Britain then you need to do something about it.

Come and be part of the most joyful, inspiring and worthwhile come back in political history.

Because that comeback starts right now, right here, it starts with us.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Katharine Pindar 18th Jul '17 - 8:32pm

    Thank you. It was wonderful to hear that speech again. But the tears come now. He did it, he inspired us, he led us to achieve so much. He should still be our leader.

  • jayne Mansfield 18th Jul '17 - 10:50pm

    @ Katharine Pindar,
    I was travelling in a car, I think it was last Saturday, and there was an interview with Tim Farron, already part way through when I got into the car.

    I only caught snatches, and my hearing is becoming as bad as my eyesight, but the interviewer asked whether he ever cried. He said yes, giving examples, including how his child had said to him that she was proud of him. That is more important than any judgment made by a fellow politician.

  • Yeovil Yokel 18th Jul '17 - 11:30pm

    I remember watching that speech the first time and being particularly impressed by the way Tim dealt with the young man briefly fainting, before smoothly resuming his speech (08:30 in the video clip).

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