by Steve Beasant on 9 June, 2017
Speaking at the National Liberal Club on the day after the general election, Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron said:
This was the hardest of elections, marred by the tragedy of those vile terrorist attacks in Manchester and in London.
And now the future of our country is less certain than it was when Theresa May called this election a month and a half ago.
For the Liberal Democrats, we have made progress in incredibly difficult circumstances and we face the new parliament in a far stronger position than we left the last one.
I am delighted to welcome back some old friends. In Jo Swinson, Vince Cable and Ed Davey we are bolstering our ranks with big figures who have served our country in government and will now be able to put their talent and experience to shaping what comes next. In Stephen Lloyd we welcome back a force of nature – a brilliant campaigner and loyal servant to his constituents.
Alongside Alistair Carmichael, Norman Lamb and Tom Brake, they are returning to a formidable team.
And I am also incredibly proud to welcome new faces to our ranks. Christine Jardine, Wera Hobhouse, Layla Moran and Jamie Stone are all fantastic campaigners who will be outstanding MPs for their constituents and our country.
I am especially proud that our parliamentary party is not only bigger but more diverse. After the 2015 election we were reduced to just eight seats – and all eight were white men. We are not yet at the point where our party fully reflects the diversity of our great country, but we have made real progress.
But while we have made great gains, we have also lost colleagues who will be very sorely missed.
Nick Clegg is a giant of British politics, a friend and a hero to me and to countless others. Not only did he lead our party into government for the first time in generations, he did so in the most difficult of circumstances and for the most noble of reasons.
Our party paid a political price for joining the coalition government, but it is nothing compared to the price our country would have paid if Nick had not shown the steel and determination to do the right thing when it was needed most.
In 2010 our economy was on the edge of a precipice. Because of Nick Clegg it survived and flourished.
The pupil premium, which has helped so many children to get the start in life they deserve, would not have happened without Nick Clegg.
Same-sex marriage, would not have happened without Nick Clegg, the children of asylum seekers would have remained held behind bars without Nick Clegg.
The raising of the income tax threshold, which has helped millions of people on low and middle incomes, would not have happened without Nick Clegg.
I could stand here and keep listing Nick’s achievements, but it would take hours.
People say they want politicians to put their differences aside and to put the country first. Nick Clegg did that. Have no doubt, history will be kind to Nick. And the new parliament will be immensely poorer without the insight, expertise and passion he brings especially to the Brexit debate.
We also say goodbye to Greg Mulholland, Mark Williams and Sarah Olney. Greg has been a brilliant, dedicated and determined campaigner and a loyal servant to the people of Leeds North West. Mark a powerful voice for Wales, for Ceredigion, for rural communities.
And Sarah, in her few short months in parliament, showed that she had the makings of a brilliant MP and a real star of the party’s future. Our parliament is worse off without them. I am sure, that if they want to, Greg, Mark and Sarah can return to our ranks in future.
Theresa May called this election expecting it to be a coronation. She took each and every one of us for granted in the most cynical way possible. Like David Cameron before her, our Conservative Prime Minister rolled the dice and put the future of our country at risk out of sheer arrogance and vanity.
And now in her diminished state, she reaches out to the right to form her own coalition of chaos. Theresa May has done the opposite of what Nick Clegg did. She put her party before her country. She has been found out. She should be ashamed.
We will now have a government that is weaker and less stable at a time when we are about to embark on the most difficult and complex negotiations in our history. Theresa May promised strong and stable leadership. She has brought weakness and uncertainty. If she has an ounce of self-respect she will resign.
The Tories have taken our country for granted too many times. Whatever happens in this coming parliament, the Liberal Democrats will fight for you, your family and for your community.
And if Theresa May, or any other Conservative, approaches the Liberal Democrats and asks for our support to deliver their agenda, let me make our position clear: no deal is better than a bad deal.
There will be no deals, no coalitions and no confidence and supply arrangements. If the Government puts a Queen’s Speech or a Budget in front of us, we will judge it on whether or not we think it is good for the country – and if it isn’t then we will not support it.
This parliament faces a challenge greater than any for generations – Brexit. And yet, both the Conservatives and Labour went to great lengths to make sure this election was about anything but.
Their plans were paper thin. Their ambitions built on little more than platitudes. Now they must lay their cards on the table. Brexit is about to get very real – and its consequences will be felt by every single person in this country.
One thing that is clear from the result of the election is that the mandate Theresa May sought for her extreme version of Brexit has been rejected by the British people. It is simply inconceivable that the Prime Minister can begin the Brexit negotiations in just two weeks’ time. She should consider her future – and then, for once, she should consider the future of our country. The negotiations should be put on hold until the government has reassessed its priorities and set them out to the British public. The British people have a right to expect that our Prime Minister will explain to them what it is that she seeks to achieve.
My party has always been proudly pro-European. We believe as much today as we ever have that we are stronger, safer and more prosperous when we work closely with our neighbours. So we will fight every day in the new parliament to make sure Britain gets the best possible deal in the years ahead. Just as we will fight to make sure our NHS, social care and schools are properly funded and fit for the years ahead.
I believe that history will judge us to have stood on the right side of the argument on Europe. We championed a very clear and simple position: the right of the British people to conclude the journey that began on 23rd June last year. For all of us to have the final say on the most important question facing us and our children.
And as the negotiations play out and the reality of Brexit becomes clearer, I believe the case for giving the people the final say over the Brexit deal will only get stronger.
Make no mistake, the battle for Britain’s future started with this election, it did not end.
The referendum showed us to be a dangerously divided country. This election has highlighted those divisions in technicolour: young against old, rich against poor, north against south, urban against rural. If we are to have any chance at healing, at coming together, we must ask ourselves some tough questions.
Are we, as a country, going to embrace the challenges of the future – an ageing population, new technology, a greener and more creative economy, working with our neighbours on the big challenges of security and climate change?
Our attitude to Europe will be an amplifier for each of these. Or are we going to shy away and bury our heads in the sand, becoming a backwards-looking and parochial country, wallowing in nostalgia, or will we focus on building a brighter future for our children?
And perhaps the biggest question. If we choose to rise to the challenges we face, how do all those who share our liberal values congregate in the same space and challenge the Conservative orthodoxy that is tearing apart our country?
We must identify a liberal common purpose in free trade, environmentalism, human rights and political reform that breaches party lines and can deliver an earthquake that turns our politics upside down.
We must also take time to listen to our country – and then talk with passion and with humour, telling stories of our politics that resonate with people and demonstrate that we really do understand the challenges and fears they face.
In 2015, our party was dealt the most devastating blow since we were founded. In 2017 we have shown that we will not be extinguished.
Now, more than ever, Britain needs our liberalism. It needs the hope and energy of our members who believe that there is a kinder, more decent politics to be had.
It needs our stubbornness, our refusal to give up in the face of overwhelming odds. It needs our belief in a fairer, greener and more optimistic country. We will continue to rebuild our party, drawing on the talent and commitment of the tens of thousands of members who have joined us in the last eighteen months.
We will continue to challenge this Conservative government’s authoritarian and cruel agenda.We will continue to stand up for those who otherwise feel marginalised and left behind.
I love this party. It is in my DNA.
Leading it for the last two years has been the utmost privilege. You have shown me the most phenomenal support – and your commitment to our communities, our country and our cause is astounding.
There is now even more work to do and I know that you will need no encouragement to throw yourselves back into the fight. Thank you – to every one of you.Leave a comment