The leader called for Lib Dem revival and an 'open, tolerant society'
Tim Farron made an impassioned call today for the Liberal Democrats’ replacing Labour as Britain’s progressive opposition, saying a Lib Dem revival is the only way to stop Tory majorities and ‘the calamity of Brexit’.
The Lib Dem leader’s party conference speech invites the 48 per cent who voted Remain and Labour supporters unhappy with Jeremy Corbyn to join the Lib Dems and fight for a open, tolerant society.
Farron compared the Labour Party’s current woes to the historic eclipse of the Liberal Party after the first world war, saying:
‘A century ago, the Liberals lost touch with their purpose and their voters, and Labour took their chance and became Britain’s largest progressive party.
Today I want us utterly ready and determined to take our chance as the tectonic plates shift again.’
He argued Labour would not win seats from the Conservatives and the SNP is only likely to take one, but dozens of Tory seats are within reach for the Lib Dems. He added:
‘The only movement with the desire and the potential to stop the calamity of Brexit and the tragedy of a generation of Conservative majority rule, is this movement, is the Liberal Democrats.’
Farron pointed to the rise of UKIP in Britain, Marine Le Pen in France and Golden Dawn in Greece as a wave of dangerous populism across Europe:
‘there is a new battle emerging – here and across the whole western world – between the forces of tolerant liberalism and intolerant, closed-minded nationalism.’
He set this against the need for a liberal internationalist movement to oppose these forces, saying ‘Britain did not become Great Britain on fear, isolation and division – and there is no country called Little Britain. There is nothing so dangerous and narrow as nationalism and cheap identity politics’.
Farron made a bid to present the Lib Dem’s fight for continued EU membership and a public vote on any Brexit deal as democratic, saying he grew up in communities that voted to Leave, respects those people, and wants to ‘give them their say over what comes next’.
He said he backed staying in the EU ‘not because I’m some starry-eyed pro-European with Ode to Joy as my ring tone … but because I am a patriot and believe it’s in our national interest to be in’:
‘For more jobs, for lower prices, to fight climate change, to stop terrorism, catch criminals, to have influence, to be a good neighbour, to stand tall, to stand proud, to matter.
And, above all, because I believe that Britain is an open, tolerant and united country – the opposite of the bleak vision of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. ‘
Farron repeated his criticisms of Theresa May’s government over having no Brexit plan, saying:
‘Make no mistake, the Conservative Party has lost the right to call itself the party of business. It has lost the right to call itself the party of the free market.
It no longer supports business, no longer understands the need for calm economic pragmatism – but instead pursues the nationalist protectionist fantasies of the Brexit fundamentalists who have won the day.’
He added: ‘There is only one party now that believes in British business – large and small; that believes in entrepreneurship and innovation: the Liberal Democrats. We are the free market, free trade pro-business party now.’
Farron invoked the Beveridge Report to argue for greater NHS spending, and pledged to campaign for better education, scrapping SAT exams and opposing Theresa May’s plans for selection.
Farron also shamed Britain for not doing more to help refugees, saying ‘we have not forgotten, we will not forget, those children could be our children – how dare the government abandon them?’
He reserved some ire for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, saying Corbyn considered winning power ‘a bourgeouis distraction’.
While he slammed New Labour’s ‘soft-touch’ on banks and the Iraq war, he said he admired Tony Blair for the minimum wage, tax credits, NHS spending and building schools.
‘maybe Jeremy Corbyn thinks there are more important things than winning elections, but for millions of people desperate for an affordable home, for a fair wage, for a properly funded NHS, they cannot wait.
How dare the official opposition abandon them?
‘There is a hole in the centre of British politics right now; a huge opportunity for a party that will stand up for an open, tolerant and united Britain.
There is a hole in the centre of British politics right now that is crying out to be filled by a real Opposition.
We will stand up to the Conservative Brexit government.
If Labour won’t be the opposition Britain needs, then we will.
That’s what we’re fighting for. A Britain that’s open, tolerant and united.’
Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.