We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Tim Farron's speech to conference rally

September 17, 2016 11:50 AM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Tim Farron arriving at Autumn 2016 Conference (Liberal Democrats on Flickr)Tonight Tim Farron raised the curtain on the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

Here's what he had to say:

At exactly this time, eight days ago in Sheffield, Liberal Democrat activists, including dozens of new members, were working their socks off.

They'd been up delivering and campaigning since before the crack of dawn.

They kept on campaigning until polls closed at 10 o'clock in the Mosborough by election.

Because failure is not an option!

Now, a quick aside, for all you new members here tonight - first of all, welcome and thank you!

Welcome and thank you, but just so you know… no one in this party ever gets purged for thinking the wrong thoughts or belonging to the wrong group… no, we are a liberal party.

But you will get purged for wimping out and knocking off at 930pm on polling day. Just saying.

Anyhow, eight days ago our team in Sheffield kept right on until 10…but they weren't the only ones working hard.

Just yards away from where the Lib Dem team were knocking on doors, some of the local Momentum activists were in the pub.

They were campaigning.

They were telephone canvassing for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election.

Meanwhile in the real world outside that rather nice Sheffield pub, real people were voting in a real election.

A real election where the unspeakably brilliant Gail Smith was about to take the Liberal Democrats from 4th to first, gaining a seat from Labour with a swing of 38.1%.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Welcome to the party with bags more momentum than Momentum!

And you are the reason for that momentum.

In June, a Labour peer gave our party a donation of more than £2.1 million pounds because he looked at you and saw that we were the movement capable of delivering a pro-Europe campaign.

Since June, our membership has risen by a third because people looked at you and saw the movement best placed to reclaim our place in Europe.

Since June our by election successes have been legendary because you got out and campaigned to win.

Labour is stricken by Momentum
Liberal Democrats are buzzing with momentum!

And it's all thanks to you!

So, yesterday - September 16th - was the 30th anniversary of me shelling out a colossal £1.50 and joining the Liberal Party!

I have since spent my entire adult life, two-thirds of my living days, almost twice as long as I've been married, spending my spare time with you lot.

Thanks for having me by the way.

For the first 19 of those years I was a volunteer, and at this time on a Saturday, I still am.

Now, compared to some here, I am a mere pup.
Unlike some, I don't remember the Thorpe Scandal, or Suez, or in the case of John Pugh, the Corn Laws.

But I've been around long enough to know that we are living in historic times.

You don't get more historic than the decision of the British people to leave the European Union.

The morning of 24th June is etched in my memory forever.

I felt as though a part of my identity had been taken from me.

I felt as though my children's future had been taken from them.

I felt as though my country had become something I hoped it would never be.

I felt bereaved.

Now, look, most of us in this room know a thing or two about losing elections.

Losing always sucks.

But the referendum was more than just a contest for who holds office for a few years.

It was about what kind of country we are, what kind of future we will share, its about who we are.

Narrow, fearful, isolated?

Or open, hopeful, outward looking?

And we lost.

So I headed for the TV studios that morning because unlike David Cameron, I had a plan.

In my darkest moments during the campaign I sensed that defeat was more than just possible.

And my plan wasn't rocket science.

It was simply that we Liberal Democrats should reflect with depth, sincerity and genuine emotion

The anguish of almost half of our country who were devastated at a result that robbed them of their sense of who they were.

There are many people who would argue that being a good loser means accepting defeat and giving up.

Sorry to disappoint you. We will not roll over, we will not walk away.

Too many politicians are only too happy to chop and change their principles, and just go whichever way the wind is blowing.

On the 23rd June I believed passionately that Britain is better off in the European Union.

And tonight I still believe passionately that Britain is better off in the European Union.

In my 30 years, there are 2 things I have grown used to.

One, is that sometimes you lose.

But the second is that you never, ever, ever give up.

Winston Churchill - that great European… and Liberal… I reckon since Brexit he is officially ours again.

There's no chance he'd carry on hanging around with that lot.

Anyhow, Churchill once said that the definition of success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Which makes us comfortably the most successful movement in British political history.

The point is not that losing is OK.

It isn't.

Noble defeats are still defeats.

The point is, if you believe in your principles then you fight for your principles because victory and defeat have just one thing in common, they are both temporary.

I will not be told that I am not a European
I will not accept that my country has been lost to the nationalists
I will not acquiesce while Britain's youth sees its future destroyed by those who will not even live to see the consequences of their actions.

There is nothing wrong, though, with being proud of your country.

I've been overwhelmed with national pride at the Olympics, the Paralympics and with Andy Murray's triumph at Wimbledon.

And with Wales success in the European Championships!

Although the less said the better about England's performance… knocked out by Iceland. Incredible, a small, lonely, isolated island in the North Atlantic…beaten by Iceland.

My other distraction this summer from politics has been music. New albums from the Avalanches and Kendal's own Wild Beasts, particular highlights!

But I also spent a bit of time listening to a slightly older album.

You see, I was asked by cult website - the RAM album club, to review this particular album.

The idea is a simple one. Every few weeks, someone vaguely well known has to pick a classic album that they have never listened to all the way through before, listen to it at least 3 times and then write a review.

So, for instance, next week JK Rowling is reviewing the Violent Femmes.

Earlier this summer, it was my turn to review Straight Outta Compton by NWA…!

So I downloaded the album and listened to it several times.

It is deservedly considered a classic, but it is a bit sweary!

And much as I admire Dr Dre, Eazy E and Ice Cube, I should point out that the Liberal Democrats take a marginally different view to them on law and order.

Anyhow, this album did cause an incident.

You see, the album was downloaded to my phone… fair enough… but my kids had been mucking about with my phone one morning and had apparently linked my ring tone with my iTunes.

And, so, later that day there I was in a meeting with the chief executive of the local NHS trust, when my phone went off and we were all treated to a quick burst of "F*** tha police!"

Which was lovely.

Almost a pity that I wasn't due to meet the chief constable until later that afternoon…

Other sources of light entertainment recently have included media appearances by Emily Thornberry.

She responded very tetchily to being asked who the French Foreign minister is.

She was very cross with the interviewer, this is a serious interview she said, this isn't a pub quiz! Well, what an absolute disgrace, she clearly had no idea who the French foreign minister is! (pssst. Catherine, who is it?... what?)

Apparently it's some French bloke.

Anyhow, I am personally rather fond of pub quizzes.

So let's have one.

Round one.


Fancy that.

What percentage of Liberal Democrat council seats have we successfully defended since May?

Answer.. 100%

This century, when did the Liberal Democrats record their record membership number?
Was it during the 2010 election; during the Iraq war; or now.



How many council seats have Liberal Democrats gained from other parties since the June referendum?

Answer .. 12.

Next. Who is Britain's answer to Justin Trudeau?


Although if you believe the Daily Telegraph, apparently it might be George Osborne. George says that in the Tory party he would stand up for the 'liberal mainstream majority'? I'll tell you what, Theresa May's Government must be pretty right wing if George Osborne is now the liberal wing!

It is a bit like Darth Vader saying he's standing up for hard-working Jedis.

But we are a party that believes in second chances. Let's pop a membership form in the post. If he really means it I'm sure we can make use of him - he can sit next to Evan Harris on the FPC.

Round 2.


Where are you spending the next 4 weeks?



Just saying.

Anyhow, end of quiz.

Excellent, well done.

The winner gets a night out with the new leader of UKIP at a restaurant of their choice.

No foreign muck mind.

So, yes, UKIP have a new leader.

It's the 4th new leader they've had in the last few years - and the last 3 new leaders were all the same bloke.

So it's nice that they've got a new leader who is actually new.

Well, I say 'new'.. 'new' in a 'Britain went to the dogs when we lost the empire' sort of way.

But UKIP's policies are no laughing matter.
And neither is Diane James.
She leads a party whose policies are based on a vision for Britain that is closed, hateful and divided.
The polar opposite of the Liberal Democrats, we believe in a Britain that is open, tolerant and united.

Worrying to read that Aaron Banks, UKIPs largest donor, wants to create a 'momentum for the right to try and keep the Tory party honest on Brexit'.

A bit terrifying.

But it is a reminder that the battle in our politics will increasingly be between liberals like us, and extremist populists on left and right, those who offer easy solutions to complex problems… solutions that normally involve blaming somebody else. Somebody who looks different to you.

Talking of donors. I wonder how likely you'd be to give money to a party that publicly slagged you off for being fat and lazy?
Actually, apparently there are some people who do pay good money for that sort of thing, but now that I'm leader I'm not allowed to make jokes about all that…

Anyway, Liam Fox… the International Business Secretary.

Has he read his job description do you think?

I'm going to guess that it doesn't include the line 'the post holder should seek to undermine British business abroad and demoralise British business at home'.

Of course, to be fair, Liam Fox did not undermine British business abroad or demoralise British business at home, because he could only have achieved those things… if any one actually took him seriously.

Still, he's getting a nice tan.

Right, I've started so I'll finish, David Davis, Brexit secretary.

Born again liberal, against ID cards, detention without trial, snoopers charter … all the things that Theresa May is in favour of incidentally.

So that'll end well.

He is also guilty of being perfectly honest, saying actually there is a very good chance that the UK won't be able to stay in the single market if we leave the EU.

Which - and he didn't say this bit - would be catastrophic for British business, British jobs and the prices on the shelves in British shops.
But don't worry, we'll have taken back control.

Which is a huge relief.

And then Theresa May, ticked him off and said he was wrong.

A minister being reprimanded for actually telling the truth.

That, in reality, we are not now in charge of our destiny and that its not just up to us whether we're in the single market.

Theresa May rebuked him.

Don't go giving the game away, she said.
The British government has a plan…obviously we're not telling anyone what that plan is because its a secret!

We are apparently, concealing our hand.

But of course they are not concealing their hand, they don't have a hand.

Or indeed a flaming clue.

And then there's Boris Johnson.

Dispatched by the PM to go on tour to as many capitals as possible… because she was concerned that following the referendum, other countries might think Britain had completely lost its marbles.

So she sent Boris Johnson to see them, so that they wouldn't think we'd lost our marbles, they'd now be absolutely certain.

This is the government of the United Kingdom.
Our government.

Doesn't it make you proud?

Well, I am proud but the world looks aghast at us now.

We keep trying to distract their attention - pointing to the medals table at the Olympics, the medals table at the Paralympics, our part in the Rosetta mission, our having 5 of the top 20 universities on planet earth….

We say, look over there, that's great Britain, don't look over there, don't look at our government!

Please don't look at our government?

They don't speak for us… well actually, sadly they do, but we think they are as embarrassing as you do!

But much as the Tories may present themselves as comedy gold: their plans to let our NHS and social care services be hacked away, to divide and label and leave behind millions of our children as they bring back grammar schools, to damage our future as they clear away all the green crap, we see that their sustained hold on government will be an unfolding nightmare of horrific proportions.

In a few days time, Labour looks like choosing to continue its flight into fantasy and pointlessness.

And Theresa May looks on rubbing her hands, thinking that she can do what she likes because no one can stop her.

Well look around you here in this hall. Here are the people who will stop her!

With Labour as they are some say that we are landed with a Tory government for the next 25 years.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm not having that.

Britain can still stand tall in Europe and Britain can still be freed from the Tories.

Let's take back control!

That's our mission.

Thousands joined our party this summer, hundreds of you are here tonight.

What a boost you have given us.

You are so welcome, thank you.

You joined because you weren't prepared to lay down and die in the face of the most catastrophic decision this country has ever taken, and you chose wisely because we will not give up that fight.

We aren't here to protest, carp and complain.

We're here to make a difference, we're here to win.

This party stands stronger, larger, determined, relevant, in the right place in the right space at the right time.

Just when Britain needed an opposition that will speak out for an open, tolerant united country

Just when Britain needed a movement that will challenge this Tory Brexit government,

just when liberals in other parties are desperate for a home where they can make a difference, the Liberal Democrats are back and we matter more than ever.

Keep Britain in Europe. Save Britain from the Tories. What an opportunity, what a mission.

We are ready.