So far, both Norman Lamb and Tim Farron have gone up in my estimation during the Liberal Democrat leadership contest, which is a good sign for what the contest will do for the party.
With Tim Farron being the frontrunner, it’s natural to give some attention to what might trip him up along the way to the finishing line and so what’s particularly impressed me about his campaign is the full-bore enthusiasm with which he’s addressed possible problems. Not every member is going to be won over by what he’s doing on them all, but it’s good to see – especially given some previous party leaders singularly failed to do likewise. It’s also a good advert for the virtues of having a contested leadership election.
So far, for example, we’ve seen Farron spend time trying to address questions over his voting record on same-sex marriage, winning the backing of Brian Paddick, taking up the cudgels several times on behalf of sexual equality in other policy areas and setting out a comprehensive plan to improve the party’s diversity.
Likewise, the criticism that he’s great at telling a room full of people what they already agree with but doesn’t like venturing beyond that (see I want to hear a speech from Tim Farron that I disagree with) is not one that can be applied to his Gladstone Club speech with its support not only for coalition in 2010 but also for coalition in 2020.
Now too he’s also filling out in detail quite how he’d turn his enthusiastic setting of the big picture into effective action to turn around the party’s fortunes. The Liberal Democrat policy process is the latest to get his attention as he sets out in an exclusive piece below.
A Festival of Ideas
Tim Farron writes…
The election was devastating for the Liberal Democrats, but for many of us the 17,000 new members who have since joined the party offer a thin silver lining.
They also represent a tremendous challenge. All too easily local party discussions can focus on minutiae – logistics and fundraising, targeting and administration – not the topics which have inspired all these new people to sign up to ensure Liberalism survives and thrives.
So we must offer something else, something new, creative.
We need to empower our members – new and old – to engage in the policy and political discussions that caused them to seek out the Liberal Democrats in the first place.
To rebuild the party we need every one of our members to contribute not simply to leaflet delivery and Focus writing, but to ensuring that liberal values are applied anew to the challenges we face today and in the future.
So my proposal is this: a festival of ideas for party members and all those that wish to contribute to the advancement of 21st century liberalism.
The festival will take place over a day and will be open, inclusive and egalitarian. It will consistent of a series of, say, twenty simultaneous sessions, each lasting no more than an hour, maybe in excess of hundred different sessions throughout the day.
And here’s the trick: the topics and format of the sessions will be set not centrally by the party or its leaders but by the participants themselves.
The Liberal Democrat Festival of Ideas will be open to all to attend. And once registered, any paid up member of the party will be free to propose a session in fifty words of less. It might take the form of a lecture, a panel debate or a facilitated discussion.
It will then be up to the participants which sessions they wish to attend, drawn by the topic, the speakers or the organiser. Some sessions will no doubt attract hundreds, others perhaps not more than half a dozen, but that’s not the point: everyone will have the opportunity to contribute on an equal basis, from the party leader to the newest member.
The party will provide rapporteurs to report back on every session, however well or badly attended, and will use the event to identify new themes, ideas and policies to help drive the party forward for the 21st century.
If elected, I will immediate ask the Federal Policy Committee, working with the Party’s conference team, to develop this plan and make the festival of ideas a reality within the next twelve months.
This is a great idea. So good, I’m tempted to say it should be taken one step further, and not be restricted to policy ideas but also more broadly to organisational and campaigning ones too.