Tim Farron has been the leader of the Liberal Democrats since July 2015 and his party has just seen a surge in membership following the EU referendum. What is the future of the Liberal Democrats and what part will they play in the fallout of the recent political turmoil?
The Parliamentary Labour Party, after voting overwhelmingly in a vote of no confidence, have forced a second leadership election for Jeremy Corbyn. This has left the Labour leader commanding little respect from his MPs and in no fit state to be leader of the opposition. Despite some on the backbenchers accepting electoral defeat in 2020 and hoping that the likes of Lisa Nandy, Kier Starmer and Dan Jarvis become credible leadership candidates for 2025, there is the possibility of a split. It’s unlikely that an SDP-style split would be beneficial to anyone, as Corbyn does well in traditionally urban areas with high student populations but would also need to win back working class areas on immigration, McDonnell’s recent attempts at making the progressive case for limiting immigration show this won’t be effective. So, are these splits between the hard left and centrists in the Labour party helping the Liberal Democrats? Tim tells us about how he sees these divides affecting his party and the country.
“The worst thing about the huge divides in the Labour party is that it is spending more time fighting internal battles than on being an effective opposition to the Conservatives. We need a strong, effective, principled opposition to the Conservatives, and increasingly people are looking to the Liberal Democrats. We gained the largest number of seats in the local elections this year, and since the referendum alone have gained over 17,000 new members.”
One of the major events that tipped Labour into this state, was the vote for the UK to leave the EU. It is, as of yet, unclear which model Britians negotiations will be based upon. As any English student can tell you, Theresa May’s definition of BrExit as ‘mean[ing] BrExit’ doesn’t suffice. The Liberal Democrats have made clear that they intend to fight the next election on the pledge that they would stay in the EU. With May having sacked more ministers than her majority, it is possible that an early election would be called but if May stays true to her leadership election pledge, then the next election will be in 2020. We asked Tim whether he would back entry into the EEA if Article 50 is triggered before the election.
“The Liberal Democrats were the only party that was united in making the positive case for the UK to remain in Europe, and I was gutted when we voted to leave. What we face now is a period of significant uncertainty, as we wait to see the detail of our post-Brexit relationship with Europe.
However, what I am clear about is this – the UK must not turn its back on Europe. Our businesses still need access to the single market, our police need to cooperate on cross-border crime, young people still want to study, work and live abroad. The Liberal Democrats will do all we can to protect these benefits.”
With the UK leaving the EU, our nation’s future on the international stage is under review, especially when it comes to security. The recent vote on the scrapping of Trident showed the divides throughout the country as to how we must best move forward. With the Tories united to keep Trident, and Labour in disarray having had four Shadow Defence Secrataries in twelve months, the Liberal Democrats were one of the leading voices against Trident. Tim gave us his view on nuclear disarmament:
“Last week the Lib Dems voted 7-0 not to renew a like-for-like replacement of Trident. This is in accordance with Lib Dem policy, as voted for by members at the party’s conferences. Instead of a like-for-like replacement of Trident, the Lib Dems are proposing an alternative to the government’s policy. Under our plans, Britain would not unilaterally disarm.
We would, however, take one of the most significant steps down the nuclear ladder our country has taken in the last half century – by removing ‘continuous at sea deterrence’ and therefore saving the cost of one submarine. Having submarines patrolling the high seas 24/7, 365 days a year does not help us to tackle the challenges that we face in the 21st century, especially in a time when our defence budget is so thinly stretched.”
Whether or not Trident is the way forward for national security, repeated terror attacks in Europe are making many people question exactly how we can make the UK safe from the tragedies that have played out in Munich, Orlando and Nice. Tim Farron has always been a strong advocate of the UK working for the people suffering most as a result of these issues, including his appeal for the UK to take in its fair share of Syrian refugees. It is in the times of most fear that the voices of liberal parties become so relevant as other factions begin to push against the individual freedoms that the Liberal Democrats advocate. Tim explains why liberal values are so significant in the current political climate:
“At a time like this, it is all the more important that we cherish liberal values of freedom and tolerance. I have been devastated by the recent terrorist attacks, but we must not make the mistake responding with less freedom and less tolerance. Ultimately, as the late Jo Cox MP said so well in her maiden speech in the House of Commons: “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.””
The Liberal Democrats may exist in an unstable political climate, but they have shown that their passion for the EU, united ideas as a party, and belief in the freedoms and rights that characterise the UK, will keep them relevant as things begin to change. Their continued commitment to the values upon which they were founded lets them speak out on the issues others are tentative to address. It is this that will always give the Lib Dems a place in British politics, and we look forward to seeing the continued success of their fight back.