By Jack Reed
Like a boxer up against the ropes, the Liberal Democrats were on the edge of being knocked out as a political party following the 2015 election. They had only 8 MPs, were without a leader and confronted by a spell in the political wilderness. It would have been easy for the Lib Dems to accept their failures and the blame they had been assigned for the coalition government, rightly or wrongly, and sink into political obscurity. But, instead of throwing in the towel, Tim Farron emerged from the corner of the ring, somebody with energy and direction for the future, and somebody ready to take the inevitable punches that would be thrown at him.
Farron won the Liberal Democrat leadership election with 56.5% of the vote and has since made significant strides towards rebuilding the reputation of the party, perhaps most notably with the campaigning he put in for the Remain vote in the EU referendum. Despite the result of the referendum, Farron maintains Britain should vote again on whether to trigger Article 50: ‘whether Article 50 should not be triggered is one that should be decided by Parliament. I believe however that the terms of the deal that is negotiated with the EU should be put to the British people in a referendum. We trusted the people with decided on whether to depart, why should we not trust them on deciding the destination?’
The referendum was ultimately a unique event in the history of British politics, one which Farron describes as ‘a bitter and divisive campaign, with both sides being guilty of divisive politics.’ Nevertheless, Farron maintains the most important issue at hand is not to quibble over what has happened and focus on achieving the best Brexit deal. ‘I believe that the UK remaining a member of the single market is vital for the UK’s economy as so many of our businesses rely on their trade with Europe and small businesses would suffer outside of the European market.’ It is clear to see Farron’s passion for remaining in the EU. While he is a big supporter of the free movement between countries, he argues Britain must prioritise staying in the single market but believes other countries, ‘who believe in freedom of movement will allow Britain such favourable terms to stay in the single market.’ It is a deal of so many possibilities and ultimately one with no right answer.
The Liberal Democrats have made very clear that they intend to keep Britain in the EU ahead of the 2020 election, though Farron stresses that this isn’t their only significant policy. They aim to launch a number of new measures, which look to overturn the policies the Conservatives have implemented and plan to over the next four years. This is evident in his thoughts about grammar schools and belief that ‘such an archaic system would let down our children.’ Rather than establish a new set of grammars, Farron hopes to ‘continue upon some of our success in government,’ relating directly to providing free school meals to all children and introducing ‘a curriculum for life including financial literacy, first aid skills and age-appropriate sex and relationship education.’ As well as education, Farron also hopes for greater changes in healthcare, wanting its transformation into ‘a service truly capable of looking after the nation’s health.’ He plans to create a National Health and Social Care service and has no qualms about how much this may cost, willing to ‘look into the feasibility of a NHS tax if this is what is required.’ Farron wants the best for British people and will invest money to ensure this happens.
When Palatinate first interviewed Farron, he was preparing for a leadership election that he would go onto win. Back then, he spoke about the growing support for the Liberal Democrats despite their poor showing in the election, He has repeated that message once again, reiterating Nick Clegg’s resignation speech was one ‘that thousands of liberals around the country responded to.’ His humility shines through when he claims the new level of support cannot be credited to him. However he also maintains that if ‘his commitment to local campaigning has been responsible for our new level of support and energy, then I am proud to have helped the Lib Dem fightback.’ Without doubt, the Lib Dems are on their way forward rather than backwards and, while Farron may not admit it, one must admire the dedication he has shown to the role and the party as a whole in dragging them out of the corner and back into the political fight.
During the build-up to the leadership election last year, Farron refused to focus solely on winning the election, but more on how to develop the party further and help it recover from the disappointments of the election. He acknowledges that ‘rebuilding the party’s local support and ensuring our voices are heard’ is the biggest challenge he faces as leader, especially since this local support ‘is needed for the media to listen to a party with only 8 seats in the Commons.’ The hard work Farron and his colleagues have been putting in on the ground seems to be producing results, what with the growth in membership the Lib Dems have experienced and in by-elections across the country, where Farron believes the Lib Dems ‘have shown that we are here and fighting back, by winning seat after seat.’ He will hope this trend continues into 2020 and beyond.
Farron’s work is targeted towards the election in 2020 and trying to rebuild the influence of the Lib Dems in Parliament. While the ambition is of course to see Lib Dems back in government, Farron sees this more as a dream rather than a realistic expectation for the forthcoming election. He comments ‘the next election however I have slightly lower aims. While it would be fantastic to do a Trudeau and come from behind to win, I would settle for doing an Ashdown.’ Clearly, he is somebody who has core principles driven by ideological beliefs rather than those of purely election victory. Furthermore, there is a traditional approach to politics that is both refreshing and productive in its results: as he advises all young people hoping to go into politics ‘even after a defeat, you need to get back up and get back out there to campaign for what you believe in.’ Farron is a fighter and, instead of throwing the towel in, will throw the punches back at his opponents until the Lib Dems return to the forefront of the political arena.
Photograph: Creative Commons