LIVE: Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron's speech to conference
Posted by Liberal Democrats on Monday, 18 September 2017
Tim started with some friendly advice…
If you have joined this party as a fast track to a career in politics, then your careers officer wants sacking.
This is not the place if you want an easy life. It is the place to be if you want to make a difference.
31 years ago I joined the Liberals.
Like the rest of you I chose the tough route in politics, I chose that tough route knowingly.
Any old mediocrity can join labour or the tories, hold office, be someone for a bit, but do exactly the same as any other careerist would have done.
But I also know you can only make a difference if you are brave enough to be different.
…and harked back to when he was first elected to Parliament…
When I first got elected, getting lost on the parliamentary estate was pretty much a daily event. Its like going to big school for the first time. One night Greg Mulholland and I were trying to find our way out of parliament, and we got lost, its just possible that we might have had a pint.
Anyway, we wandered into the house of lords lobby by mistake and Greg whispered to me ‘I think we’re in the wrong place’ to which the policeman on the door responded ‘not in the wrong place sirs, just 30 years too early.
Which tells you something about how folks see the comfortable trajectory of the career politician.
Anyhow, about a week later I decided to join year 6 of Dean Gibson Primary School from Kendal on their tour around parliament. Everything I know about what’s where in parliament I got from that guided tour.
As the tour progressed we ended up again in the House of Lords lobby, and I got distracted by Geoffrey Howe moving rather slowly out of the chamber and into the lobby.
I don’t mind telling you, I was rather star struck, I mean he was chancellor of the exchequer when I was at school!
One of the kids saw who I was looking at, and she said ‘who is he?’ and I said ‘that’s Geoffrey Howe, he brought down Margaret Thatcher’ and she said, ‘who’s Margaret Thatcher?’
Which goes to show that, you know, there is some justice.
Margaret Thatcher love her or not, was a great leader, immensely significant, and, apparently… forgettable.
…Tim paid tribute to his predecessor…
We have a great, new leader in Vince.
He is exactly what we need, just when we need it – and I still aim to encourage, inspire and support you as we seek to win, in councils and in parliaments, in your community, and across our country.
To me, the Tories aren’t the enemy, Labour aren’t the enemy, defeat is the enemy.
Because defeat robs us of the ability to make people’s lives better.
…Tim then touched on why he joined the party – and why he stayed…
I joined this party because I agreed with it. I stayed in this party because I fell in love with it. Because this is the party that is in no one’s pocket. This is the party that lets you think for yourself
This is the party that treats people like people, not pawns in an ideological game. This is the party riddled with compassion, and we are terminally infected with optimism. And guided by rational thought, by a refreshing wisdom in the face of extremism and dogma.
Given that we are now led by the wisest person on the planet, it’s probably a good time for me to tell you that it is this party’s wisdom that I love the most. Wisdom is not always popular, but wisdom is what any country needs, especially this country and especially now.
You can win elections and win power by being crafty and clever. But you only do any good by being wise.
…and reviewed our record as a party…
We spoke out about climate change decades before anyone else. And we were right.
We spoke out about the impending banking collapse before anyone else. And we were right.
We called for Britain to join Europe from the start. And we were right.
We opposed the illegal Iraq war. And we were right.
We called for Britain to take our fair share of refugees.
We were right. We are right.
And we said that leaving the EU is the biggest mistake we have made in a hundred years and that we should resist it. And we are right.
But I am fed of being right and getting beat.
…He looked back on his goals when he became leader…
I saw those assumptions that we were dead and buried and I resolved that we were going to survive and we were going to grow and we were going to matter and we were going to win again.
The Liberal movement that gave us the welfare state, the old age pension, freedom of religion, the health service, LGBT equality, council housing.
The Liberal movement of Gladstone, Lloyd George, Shirley Williams, Jo Grimond, Nancy Sear, Charles Kennedy – the movement I joined as a 16 year old, was not going to die on my watch.
And so 2 years ago, in this very hall, I set you a challenge and you rose to that challenge, you picked a ward and you won it, we had the first local election gains for our party in 8 years, we grew our membership, we took risks, we made ourselves matter.
We saved the Liberal Democrats and I am proud of every single one of you.
…And looked back to that morning in June 2016…
In the early hours of the 24th June 2016 I took our biggest risk. A considered risk.
You see, unlike David Cameron, I had made a plan as to what we would do if the EU referendum was lost.
It was a simple plan, and it was to stick to our principles
It was to defiantly say that the Britain we love is a Britain that loves the world.
That the Britain we love is open, tolerant, united, it is not insular, suspicious and divided.
That to be a patriot is to do what is best for your country what is best for your children’s future.
I respect the majority, because I am a democrat.
But I resist Brexit and I want the people to have the chance to change and rescue their future, because I am a patriot.
June 24th 2016 was a long day, but it was a day we turned a corner, with a conviction and clarity that meant for the first time in ages we actually seemed to matter.
…and the impact of that fateful morning…
It was an especially long day if you worked in the Lib Dem membership department.
When I arrived at HQ that morning everyone’s eyes were fixed on a TV screen, not BBC, ITV, Sky, no, the screen that displays the party’s current membership figures.
That number was rising at the rate of a new member every single second, and it went on, and on and on and we grew and grew and grew.
We made a risky call that morning, but since then our membership has doubled to 105,000, the highest it has ever been in the history of our party.
We had the best run in council by-elections for more than a generation, we had Witney and then we had Richmond Park.
We experienced something we had hardly experienced for years: winning, and the joy and energy and momentum that comes from winning, which leads to more winning!
And for all the challenges of the June election, for the first time in four general elections, our party came back with an increase in MPs and our most diverse parliamentary party ever.
I said during the campaign that my motivation for fighting the madness of Brexit was that I wanted to look my children straight in the eye in the years to come and say that I did everything, everything to prevent this disaster.
And that is still my motivation.
It is not too late. The Britain we love can still be saved. Do not give up.
…and Tim remembered someone very dear to all of our hearts…
I remembered Charles Kennedy stood in the Commons speaking wisdom and reason as Tories and Labour ganged up to take us into that illegal war in Iraq, I remember Charles being screamed at for being a traitor, and hounded for daring to stand up to Bush and Blair.
And I remember public opinion against us at first. I remember Charles determination to keep going all the same, he was right, he knew it and he wasn’t going to let it go.
And as the months went by and our cause was proven right and just, the mood changed and Britain agreed that Charles Kennedy was right.
We need to follow Charles example today.
We are right, we will be proven right, we must not give up.
…and Tim outlined what we need to tell people about Brexit…
So we must tell the truth. Britain’s exit from the European Union will make, is making, my country poorer, my country less safe, my country less powerful… and it is damaging the future for our children.
Of course there is one promise that Brexit will fulfil. It will reduce immigration, without changing a single law. Because if you turn Britain into a poorer, meaner, insular place, no one in their right mind will choose to come here.
…Tim then rounded on the Conservatives and their disastrous plan for Britain…
Its making Britain weaker, smaller and less important.
Its making Britain smaller overseas, and its making Britain smaller at home.
Diminishing our schools as this summer, most head teachers had to lay off staff because of budget cuts
Letting our NHS shrink, demoralising clinicians, betraying patients
Pushing those who were just about managing into poverty and family crisis
After the dementia tax disaster, going from a bad plan to no plan for the future of social care
Turning its back on affordable and social housing
Cutting rail investment
Downgrading the green energy revolution that Nick and Ed delivered in government
Brexit was never just about being out of Europe, it was always part of a wider plan: to shrink the state, cut the green crap, small government, weak citizens, everyone for themselves, a small Britain, a weak
Britain, a mean Britain.
But that is not our Britain.
…and then the Labour party…
And this menace to our future is multiplied because the official opposition is a joke.
The party of Atlee, Gaitskell, Wilson, Callaghan, Blair and Brown… is now run by the kind of people who used to try to sell me newspapers outside my students union. A party which now has more in common with Class War than they do with the Fabian Society.
But Labour’s election result in June was better than expected.
Labour MPs won who had expected to lose. And so we have the born again Corbynistas.
Those who fought to get rid of him then, but who are happy to support him now.
I say this to the majority in Labour who are social democrats…
You may have saved your seats, but you have lost your party.
…and Corbyn’s brand of hard-left socialism…
Hard left socialism is an assault on our economy, an assault on our internationalism, an assault on our liberty. If you are social democrat in labour today, you know that.
and if you’re breathing a sigh of relief that you held on in June, you need to have a good long look at yourself.
You do not belong now to the party that you joined. You know that Labours leadership would keep us apart from Europe, trash our economy and lead us to the worst austerity in living memory.
And you know that the people who would suffer the most wouldn’t be the rich it would be the poorest.
It would be those who most rely on strong public services, health, social care, schools, welfare, pensions.
Those who would suffer from extreme socialism would be the many and not the few.
…and Tim closed with a message to the most important people in the party…
And so I want to focus my final words on the most important people in our party. You.
This week, you are here, giving up your time and money.
All year, your work in your communities, fighting elections, running the local party, building our campaigning infrastructure on the ground is what really saved this party.
Half of you joined in the last 2 years, but you are the movement that forces this party through its dark times and which has now filled it with its greatest ever purpose and mission.
You make sacrifices for our cause, you are selfless in your commitment, you are all that stood between this party and oblivion and I salute you all
And now I rejoin your ranks, proud to march alongside you.
Because activist I was since the day I joined, activist I was as leader, activist I remain until the day I die.
On the desperate plight of refugees,; on the dishonesty and calamity of Brexit; on the tragedy of homelessness; the horror of climate change; the chaos in care..
You are the people who will not walk on by, because you cannot walk on by.
That is why you are different and that is why I love you
And that is why our ambition matters.
Britain needs the Liberal Democrats, sanity in economics, compassion for all, a plan for the long term, an exit from Brexit… what’s not to like?
And there’s no one else in our market.
Of course celebrate our survival, but if we love our country then our ambition cannot now just be to survive, it must be to grab this moment, take that space and fill it with all that we have.
When I needed you, you were always there.
But your country needs you now.
It needs you to win, it needs you to grow, it needs you to get behind our outstanding leader and it needs you to believe that you belong to the only movement that can rescue our country and the generations to come from the disaster it now faces.
That is the ambition we all share, that is the ambition that burns within when personal ambition fades,
that is the ambition that gives clarity to our mission, purpose to our campaigns, a reason to fight.
We have made our party matter, now we must make our party win.