Lib Dems are Britain’s best vehicle for political change – Tim Farron

Where will liberal pro-Europeans, a group that includes people, even MPs, from across Labour, Conservative, Green, Liberal Democrats and no party, end up at the next general election? Will they be split ineffectually across many parties, will they coalesce around a new party or will the Liberal Democrats be the magnet which draws them together?

It’s a question notably on the minds of, for example, many formerly generous political donors to different parties who are now looking for whether there is a plausible vehicle for liberal pro-Europeanism before they open their chequebooks.

For them, and for many others who would bring political experience and activity with them, the Liberal Democrats are not (yet) the straightforward answer to that – which is why this was a major theme of Tim Farron’s very well received speech to close the party’s conference in York:

All you generals without armies, here’s your army. You want a vehicle. Get on board. You want a movement. Move. Stop waiting for something to happen. Join us and make something happen.

The political strategy running through the speech is about remaking British politics around the open versus closed, liberal versus authoritarian spectrum rather than left versus right. And for the Liberal Democrats to be the fulcrum of the open, liberal end, gathering in support from those who currently support, or even are in, other parties:

The old debate between left and right, capitalism versus socialism, has been overtaken by a new debate about the sort of country we are. Open or closed. Internationalist or isolationist. Open-minded or introverted. Excited by change or threatened by it.

Watch out for more on that as the party’s strategy process runs through this year culminating in a debate at the autumn federal conference.

Tim Farron’s York conference speech in full

A few weeks ago I was in Doncaster, filming for a Laura Kuenssberg documentary. They took me to a pub to meet a group of people who had voted Leave, and I got talking to one of the guys there – a Scottish businessman who’d lived in Yorkshire for many years, a bit older than me, pro-union, anti-Europe.

We bonded initially over football – he’s a Glasgow Rangers fan and I’m a Blackburn Rovers fan, so we have Graeme Souness in common and Barry Ferguson… and colossal disappointment!

We eventually got on to Europe. We had to, really, that was the point of the documentary – and he had a bit of a go at me for letting the side down. He said I should be backing Theresa May. We’d get a better deal if we were all on the same side.

So I asked him. How good are Celtic in Europe? Now, for the non-football fans among you, the answer is ‘not very’, but him being a Rangers fan, the answer I got back was a little more ‘post-watershed’. I said to him: ‘You’re right, they’re absolutely dreadful. And why is that? It’s because they have got an absolutely dreadful opposition at home.’

There was a pause. Now, given Celtic’s opposition at home includes, principally, Rangers, I thought he might be about to lamp me for insulting his team. But he looked me in the eye and said: ‘Yeah, I see your point’.

Because whether you support Brexit or not, Britain needs a decent opposition.

In January, Theresa May gave her big speech at Lancaster House where she set out her priorities for the Brexit negotiations. After months of saying Brexit means Brexit, she finally came clean. Brexit means Hard Brexit. Brexit means Brexit at any cost. Brexit means jumping out of the Single Market, the world’s biggest marketplace, with all the consequences that will have for people’s jobs and our economy.

That wasn’t what people voted for in June last year. Narrowly the British people chose Brexit. But it is this Conservative Government that has chosen this Brexit.

A Conservative Party that has presented itself, for as long as it has existed, as being a party for business is now prepared to walk away from our biggest market even though it means crippling tariffs on British companies.

Theresa May, the inheritor of the Government that sought to fix our economy after the financial crisis, wilfully choosing to do something she knows will wreck it.

The politician who rose to prominence in her own party for accusing it of being the nasty party deliberately leaving millions of people insecure and uncertain about whether they can even stay in the country they call home.

But that speech told us more than Theresa May wanted us to know. It showed us who Theresa May is worried about – and guess what, it’s not Her Majesty’s Opposition. This was a speech designed to box off the right wing media and the right of her party. This was a speech that Nigel Farage could have given.

She didn’t even attempt to address the case from anyone on the centre or the left. She feels no threat from there.

One of the most pointed attacks on it was made by George Osborne, who accused Theresa May of putting concerns about immigration ahead of the economy. George Osborne. That’s where the left starts now. So I suppose that makes the Evening Standard a lefty rag!

That’s how far Theresa May has moved the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party has been taken over by its own version of Momentum. May’s Momentum. The Hard Brexiteers. The anti-free trade protectionists. The shrink-the-state extremists. The anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-international aid zealots. It’s their party now – and it’s hard to be sure whether Theresa May is their leader or their captive.

And it wasn’t only the centre and the left she ignored in that speech. She even hung out to dry her own backers in British business. Theresa May is treating British businesses the way Labour has treated the working class for decades. Taking them for granted because she thinks they have nowhere else to go. Theresa May has put at risk the very people who have bankrolled her party’s success for years. And she didn’t have to.

She could have fought to keep us in the Single Market if she wanted to. She has chosen not to. She is pulling us out before the negotiations have even begun. And because of that choice, she is to blame for every job that is lost, every shop that closes, every company that downsizes, every factory relocated overseas. There was nothing inevitable about leaving the Single Market. That’s her choice. The blame for the damage lies at her door.

If I was a businessperson who had given money to today’s Conservatives, I would demand my money back. You were sold a free market, internationalist, pro-business party but what you’ve got is protectionism, nationalism, economic vandalism. So business should drop the Conservative Party like a hot brick.

They should do it publicly. They should do it now.

If you are an entrepreneur or an investor, a City financier or a hedge fund manager, a shop keeper or a start-up. It’s not you, it’s them. They don’t want what you want. Not any more. Dump them.

There is only one party in British politics right now fighting to keep you in the world’s biggest marketplace; who wants to encourage an economy built on dynamism, innovation and opportunity; who believes in a genuinely free market; who wants challengers, ideas, innovation; who wants a liberal economy. And that party is the Liberal Democrats.

If you want to stop the Conservative Government taking our country out of the Single Market without any mandate to do so, you don’t have long to do it, and you don’t have time to do it subtly. But you can help rescue Britain’s economy and protect your business. You need to dump the Tories and back the Liberal Democrats right now.

I have a lot of respect for Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt. They had the decency to admit the Labour Party they believed in was gone and the bravery to act on it. Good luck to them. And there are plenty of other MPs updating their LinkedIn profiles too.

I respect Stephen Phillips too, the previous Conservative MP for Sleaford, who resigned because although he had voted leave, he never signed up to Theresa May taking us out of the Single Market. But there are dozens of Conservative MPs who have been put in the same position as him. Especially among those elected in the last two elections, attracted by what they believed was a new era of Compassionate Conservatism under David Cameron: pro-business and pro-environment, who believed in social justice as much as sound economics.

We shared power with their party for five years, so I think I can say this to them bluntly. You aren’t in that party any more. It has gone. You are now the supporters of a Government that is as anti-business as Jeremy Corbyn. You are now the cheerleaders of a government that is an anti-refugees as Nigel Farage. You are now backing an agenda that is the opposite of what you signed up for. You are trooping through the lobbies voting for this stuff! And you know it’s wrong, so for pity’s sake, have some self-respect. Defect or resign. If you don’t then when the next election comes we will do to you what we did to Zac Goldsmith.

Embracing a Hard Brexit has transformed the Conservative Party from pragmatic to pig-headed. And it is transforming Labour too.

To the leaders of the Leave campaign, Brexit was about a world view that includes smaller government, shrunken public services, locking the door to refugees and turning Britain into a low tax, low regulation, bargain basement economy. And it has fuelled xenophobia, chauvinism and nationalism.

That’s why I have always been more angry with Labour MPs like Gisela Stuart or Kate Hoey than Nigel Farage. At least UKIP are open about it. But the Labour MPs who campaigned for Leave knew what they were signing up for – or they should have. And there were many more – Jeremy Corbyn included – who were indifferent rather than anti. That indifference was there for the world to see during the referendum campaign and it quickly became official Labour party policy afterwards. But Labour is not indifferent any more. Now they are complicit.

In Stoke they ran a campaign to out-UKIP UKIP. In Manchester, Andy Burnham is running a mayoral campaign arguing to pull us out of the Single Market. In Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer ordered their MPs and Peers to vote in favour of Article 50 – even if the Government made no concessions to them whatsoever – which they didn’t. They even went further and ordered their Peers in the House of Lords to vote against an amendment to maintain our membership of the Single Market.

Because Labour backed the Government, the Government can do as it pleases.

One of the most despicable things this Government has done happened quietly, in a ministerial written statement on the day that Article 50 passed the House of Commons. The Home Office quietly confirmed that Britain would stop taking in desperate, unaccompanied child refugees under the ‘Dubs amendment’. Not because the crisis was at an end or because we had rescued the thousands of children that the Government had promised, under duress, to help. Of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing war and destitution, in the end we will take just 350. No, the Government stopped taking unaccompanied child refugees because they calculated that they could get away with it.

But just to make sure, they sneaked out the news on the same day that Tory and Labour MPs voted Article 50 through. A despicable act, done in a despicable way.

But it fits the new world view. Britain out of Europe, smaller state, run down public services for those who can’t afford to go private, less overseas aid, get rid of the green crap, stuff the refugees. And that is what this Government now think they have a mandate to deliver.

So, being a feeble opposition does not just hurt the Labour Party – it hurts everyone who needs a decent opposition. You want to help the refugees, to help those desperate on a housing waiting list, to help those who need better social care? Well let me tell you, by making yourself the most unelectable opposition in history you are betraying every single one of them. Labour, by backing hard Brexit you have given the green light to that world view. A world view which includes the destruction of everything good that Labour have done since 1945.

This is my message to Labour: The Tories are destroying your post-war legacy while you are busy destroying yourselves.

But here’s the good news. The future has not yet been written. This lurch towards meanness and madness is not unstoppable. We are here today to declare that we intend to stop it.

Two politicians made speeches recently that could never have been made today by frontbenchers in their own parties: John Major and Tony Blair.

Both were powerful, authoritative, pro-European speeches. There was barely a word in either that I disagreed with. And it occurred to me: Major, Blair – and Brown and Cameron too for that matter – all now have more in common with us than they do with their own parties.

The last four Prime Ministers of this country, who in their own ways advocated for a Britain that was internationalist, outward-looking and built on a foundation of social justice and sound economics are now fringe figures in their own parties.

Think about that for a moment. Being in favour of the market, of strong public services, of facing up to climate change, believing in free trade and working with your neighbours – that was all motherhood and apple pie not long ago. Everyone said that they were in favour of it.

Now, all that stuff, basic common sense stuff – we are the only ones who believe it. Who’d have thought it? Being sensible is now a radical concept.

And why stop at the last four Prime Ministers. After all, who was it who invented the Single Market? You do know who I’m talking about don’t you? That’s right, Dr Paul Nuttall. At least that’s what it says on his website. Must be true.

The Single Market. Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. Being dismantled by her own party. A party of unwavering belief in free markets and business, turned into a party of isolationists and protectionists.

Theresa May took office claiming she would be a social justice crusader. And here she is today, to the right of Thatcher, holding hands with Donald Trump.

When Tony Blair gave his speech last month he called for people who opposed Brexit to rise up, to make their voices heard. He called for defiance. For us not to give up.

Well thanks for that Tony, we didn’t need telling! Because Liberal Democrats are defiant. We haven’t given up. We won’t become indifferent. We reject the Hard Brexit world view and we will fight it every step of the way.

But Tony Blair is a general without an army. His entire political philosophy was about changing things by winning elections – and yet he has no party to win one with. And there are many people who feel like him, angry at what has happened, motivated to act, but without a vehicle to do it. Well, if you want a vehicle, a political force, a movement for change in this country, you’re looking at it right now. It’s here in this room.

The fact is that there is only one party that is providing real opposition to this Conservative Brexit Government. There is only one party fighting for a Britain that is open, tolerant and united. There is only one party with the desire and will to win – and that is the Liberal Democrats.

So Article 50 did not get triggered this week. Theresa May was planning to do it but then Nicola Sturgeon got in there first and apparently there’s a rule that says we’re only allowed one act of nationalist self-immolation a week. So we must wait a few more days for that particular delight.

Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty more to keep you terrified in the meantime. We’ve just dodged Geert Wilders – because the Dutch are so liberal they have two liberal parties – and they both won!

But don’t be complacent, we still have Marine Le Pen to come. And you didn’t dream it, Donald Trump really is the President of the United States.

How do we react to this? The rise of nationalism, populism, isolationism? What does your gut tell you? What’s the right response? Let me tell you about a friend of mine. She woke up the day after the 2015 election, heartbroken that fear and division had won. She made a choice. Not to hang her head in despair, but to do something about it. She joined the Liberal Democrats. Today, she is the Member of Parliament for Richmond Park. It doesn’t always happen like that. It took me a bit longer. But Sarah Olney exemplifies the best way to respond to the nationalist nightmare.

Are you angry about Brexit? About the shrinking of our public services? About the sneering at climate change? About the heartless disregard of refugees? Don’t just sit there, do something! Sarah was not the only one motivated by the result of the election, or inspired by that graceful, powerful speech Nick Clegg gave on the morning after.

And thousands more like her felt the same way the morning after the European referendum too. Our party has doubled in size. Our membership is the highest it has been this century. Today we have passed 86,000 members – a thousand more of you have joined us in the last nine days. A quarter of the people at this conference – a quarter of you – are here for the first time.

You joined because you are determined to change the direction of our country. I am determined to change the direction of our country.

Welcome to the fight for Britain’s future.

Theresa May obsesses about her UKIP flank. But she should fear the Liberal Democrats far more. We are the only party winning votes off the Conservatives week in and week out. In council elections everywhere, every week. In Witney, in Richmond Park. Because there are millions who voted Conservative at the last election who are worried by the direction she is taking the country.

Not just people who voted to Remain. But millions also who voted to Leave but who did not think that meant cutting off the Single Market, sacrificing the economy, destroying health and social care.

Theresa May should fear the Liberal Democrats and the three-quarters of voters who don’t want Brexit at any cost. Because here’s the thing, we are the only party that can deny Theresa May a majority at the next election. The SNP can’t. They can only take one seat off the Tories… unless Nicola Sturgeon adopts an aggressive foreign policy. Maybe that’s next week’s populist bombshell? Labour won’t take any seats off the Tories because… well, do I really need to explain? And that means that the only route to the Conservatives losing their majority is a Liberal Democrat one. We can gain the seats to rob the Tories of their power to wreck Britain.

And by doing so we can change the course of our country. It is still possible for the British people to stop a Hard Brexit. It is still possible for the British people to keep us in the Single Market. And if they want, it is still possible for the British people to change their minds and remain in the European Union. Democracy didn’t end on 23rd of June. The people can have their say over what comes next.

We are not going to change our destiny by using the courts, or through Parliamentary procedures, or with earnest speeches to think tanks and academics. We are only going to change our destiny by winning the argument. Because it is the people who are sovereign in this country.

Someone will have the final say on the deal we will have to live with for generations to come. The question is, who should it be? Labour, the Conservatives and UKIP say it should be politicians. We say it should be the people. We started this process last June with democracy, so we must end it with democracy too.

If you want to change our destiny, we need you. We are the vehicle. We are the political force. We are the movement capable of changing our country for the better. If that’s what you want then you need to get on board and you need to do it now.

Brexit is the cloud hanging over Britain.

I was talking to a senior board member of a firm in Westmorland last week. Brexit’s a disaster, he said. But we’re positive about the future. In our history, he told me, we’ve got through two huge fires, dozens of floods and two World Wars, we’ll survive Brexit if it happens and we’ll do it with a smile on our face. That’s a brilliant and correct attitude. Because Brexit is not the root of every issue we have in this country.

Inequality is growing. Our society is ageing. Productivity and economic growth are down. The NHS is in a state of perpetual crisis. Social care is broken. Climate change threatens our future. The challenges facing Britain are bigger than Brexit.

The Conservatives are not going to fix those things. They are under no political pressure to do so because the main opposition party in this country is not interested in winning power off them.

We need a real opposition, with an alternative plan for the country and the will to win.

There is an ugly consensus emerging on the right – not just here but across the western world. Nationalism. Authoritarianism. Protectionism. Reversing the progress we have made on human rights. No longer generous towards refugees or the poorest people around the world. Climate change indifference and denial. The politics of Trump. Of Putin. Of Le Pen. And now the politics of Her Majesty’s Government.

But there is no consensus on the liberal, progressive left. There is no consistent challenge. Where is the exciting, alternative vision? Where is the new economic model? Where are the answers to the big questions thrown up by the period of unprecedented change that globalisation and the digital revolution has brought? Across the west the centre-left has been turfed out and the liberals and progressives are scattered.

We can’t just sit tight and wait for the wind to change direction. The pendulum won’t just swing back. Progressives and liberals need a rallying point. Britain needs a business friendly, socially just, electable alternative to the Conservatives.

So let’s be it.

Britain needs a new deal for the NHS and social care. Let’s create it. Britain needs a new dynamic, innovative, entrepreneurial economy. Let’s design it. Britain needs a school system that gives our children the knowledge and skills to thrive in that new economy. Let’s do it.

I want a Victorian-scale transformation of our country. A unifying mission of national renewal – from a green revolution to make Britain self-sufficient in energy, to a new deal for the NHS and social care. I want three million affordable homes, I want the best railways in Europe.

Our future will be defined by more than Brexit. There is an enormous challenge in front of us – so let’s rise to it. Brexit or no Brexit, Britain needs a progressive party with a plan for the sort of society it wants to build, a plan for an economy that makes the most of the opportunities in front of us.

We need to start building that consensus. I don’t pretend that we have all the answers. No one has a monopoly on wisdom or ideas. If we are going to be that big, credible, electable alternative then we need to reach out beyond our ranks and beyond our comfort zone.

That’s why in the weeks ahead I will be setting up an independent panel of experts and thinkers who will report back to me on a single question: how do we create a liberal, economically strong and socially just alternative vision for Britain?

And this panel will be independent for a reason. If the Liberal Democrats are to be the natural home for those who want to rally around a new, progressive alternative to the right-wing consensus, then we need to be a big tent. We need to talk to people outside our tribe – including people in other parties.

Our task is nothing short of a new consensus. Britain needs a confident, optimistic, liberal alternative, built on a clear, credible plan. With that we can be more than just the real opposition. We can be an alternative government.

A century ago, the tectonic plates of British politics shifted dramatically. The Liberal Party, one of the great parties of government, was split. It had lost its sense of purpose. The country had changed around it and it no longer had the answers. In just a few years the Labour Party went from fewer than 10 seats to displacing the Liberals as the main opposition to the Conservatives. From there the Labour Party went on to become one of the natural parties of government, able to reshape our country in profound ways. And today, you can clearly see and feel those tectonic plates moving again.

The old debate between left and right, capitalism versus socialism, has been overtaken by a new debate about the sort of country we are. Open or closed. Internationalist or isolationist. Open-minded or introverted. Excited by change or threatened by it.

And Labour no longer has the answers. It is split down the middle. On the biggest issues of the day it has no clue what it is for, no clue who it is for. And Labour won’t just bounce back. They are not resting. They are not stunned. They are not pining for the fjords. Stop nailing them to the perch. (Wonderful plumage though…)

What a contrast with the Liberal Democrats. We know the Britain we love and the Britain we want to build – an open, tolerant, united Britain, innovative and ambitious, generous and outward-looking, confident and optimistic. We may, for now, be small in numbers in the House of Commons, but that didn’t stop the Labour Party a century ago and it will not stop us now.

Let me be explicit about what I want us to achieve: I want us to replace the Labour Party as the main opposition to the Conservatives… so that we can replace the Conservatives as the Government of our country.

And with a liberal, progressive Government, Britain can once again be a bulwark against the rising tide of nationalism and protectionism, instead of shamefully being an enabler of it. I know I’m not the only person in this room who felt uneasy with the indecent haste with which Theresa May dashed to Washington DC to meet President Trump. I’m not against British Prime Ministers having good relationships with American Presidents. In fact they must. There are few more vital relationships in world politics. But this was less than a week after Donald Trump became president. It wasn’t just that it looked desperate – begging for a new deal as we cut our ties with Europe. It was because of the world view that Donald Trump represents.

Here is a man who is building a wall, banning Muslims, telling the world that climate change is a conspiracy. A man who ridicules people with disabilities and jokes about sexually assaulting women. A man who claimed that President Obama wasn’t born in the USA. And there was our Prime Minister, holding his hand.

And it sent a very clear message. Britain is leaving behind our neighbours in Europe and all they stand for and hitching ourselves to Donald Trump and all he stands for. Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen, Theresa May. This is the new normal, the new status quo. Aggressive. Nationalistic. Anti-NATO. Anti-EU. Churchill’s vision for a world that achieves peace through trade, common values and shared endeavour evaporating before our eyes.

But there are outposts of resistance. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Government in Canada. Emmanuel Macron and his En Marche movement in France. Alexander van der Bellen’s narrow victory over the far right in Austria. The Liberal victories in the Netherlands this week. Liberals and progressives can fight back. We can challenge and we can win. We can take back what they have taken from us.

Those populist victories have two things in common – the first is that the emotional argument won, the second is that none of them were inevitable. Why can’t a progressive, rational, liberal movement also be the movement that understands and shares the emotions of the people?

I want to reclaim that most emotive and unifying thing that we have as a society: patriotism. There are too many on the centre left who are squeamish about patriotism. Not me. I love my country. I’m proud of my identity. There was a poster that Van der Bellen used in his campaign to defeat the far right that said simply: ‘People who love their country don’t divide it’. He’s right. Patriotism isn’t about dividing our society. It is about celebrating it. It’s about our shared experience, our shared history, our shared destiny.

This weekend, the nationalists have their spring conferences too. The nationalists led by Nicola Sturgeon. And the nationalists led by Theresa May. Both of them talking about defending a precious union, both of them wrapped in a flag, both of them claiming that we need to be liberated from fake bogeymen. Different targets, the same rhetoric. Both seeking to play to the worst instincts. Separation, selfishness, suspicion. Patriots love their country, nationalists hate their neighbours. I am a patriot.

The fact that in 1990 I kissed the TV when David Platt scored against Belgium in the last minute of injury time doesn’t mean I hate Guy Verhofstadt or Tin Tin or Plastic Bertrand, or any of the other large number of very, very famous .

I am proud of my country. Our ambition. Our optimism. Our generosity. Our openness to new people and new challenges. Our sense of humour. Our sense of fair play and decency. We don’t fear the challenges, we see the opportunities. We don’t retreat from the world, we lead it. We don’t turn away those in need, we help them. Oh. And when we lose a referendum, we don’t give up!

But mostly I love my country because it is my country. There’s nothing logical about it. It’s emotional. And its good. This is where I’m from. It is a part of the story of who I am. And you should never be ashamed of who you are.

How dare the nationalists steal my flag and turn it into a symbol of division? I love my country. I am proud of my country. And I’ll tell you what: I want my country back.

A belief in our country is the glue that can keep us together to achieve great things, to share the joy of making progress, to look at each other and encourage one another when there are moments of doubt, and to be proud of what we are working towards.

I try not to be personally vain. Obviously it’s difficult with these looks. But I’m quite vain about my country. I like it when my country makes me proud. I am deeply affected by my experiences meeting refugees in the camps across Europe.

But there’s an aspect of that experience I haven’t spoken about so much. You see, when I met those young refugees in Calais, I asked them why they wanted to come to Britain? And they answered with excitement. To them Britain is peace, Britain is fair, Britain is welcoming, a place where hard work is rewarded, where decency, self-discipline, and kindness are the norm. Praise for Britain, for our history, our culture, our character, our values just fell from their lips. It was overwhelming. Amidst the desperate sympathy I felt for these kids, I confess to feeling a small pang of pride. I was proud of how those kids think of my country. Of how they cherish our values. How they wanted nothing more than to be part of the story of Great Britain. And shouldn’t we let them?

Britain is all the things those kids told me that we are, yet our Government’s message to the world is the opposite. How mean, how small, how shabby, how unpatriotic?

Theresa May, let me tell you that to love your country is to desire that your country would be at its best in the eyes of our neighbours around the world. Let me take you to any of the camps in Europe so that you can look those people in the eye and explain to them why you will not give them sanctuary. And you can listen to them share their vision of the Britain that I believe in, but which you clearly do not. What an irony that people born thousands of miles away know the character of Britain better than our own Prime Minister.

Patriots do not settle for the worst. Patriots fight for the best. I love my country, so let’s make our country better.

When I spoke at our last conference, I told you that I had a plan for our party. And we are delivering on that plan.

We are winning in local by-elections left, right and centre. We’re winning seats off the Tories, off Labour, off UKIP. We’re winning in remain seats and we’re winning in leave seats. And with your help we will keep that streak going in the elections this May. We are the only party that has increased its vote in every parliamentary by-election. We did it in Sleaford, in Stoke, in Copeland. We did it spectacularly in Witney…and we did it in Richmond Park.

The worst we’ve done in a by-election since June is to merely double our vote. Our membership has doubled too.

We are the only party in British politics opposed to a Hard Brexit, fighting for our membership of the Single Market and campaigning to give the British people the final say over what comes next. And we are the real opposition to the Conservative Government on everything else too.

We may not yet have strength in numbers in the House of Commons, but we are holding the Government to account every day. And we are still able to change our country. We forced the Government to scrap their cuts to working tax credits. We fought for the rights of tenants and got private letting fees banned. We ended decades of injustice by winning the pardon of thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of crimes that should never have been crimes.

And the bigger we are, the more we can do. I can’t change the result of the last election but we can all change the result of the next one. So we have a plan and we will continue to deliver it. Picking wards and winning them. Growing our party. Being the real opposition that this country needs.

That is the plan. But this is the purpose. An alternative vision for our country. A real opposition that wants to win power so it can change the country we love for the better.

I’m sure you all hear people saying ‘this is a huge opportunity for a progressive party’. Some of them might be hoping that the Labour Party will sort itself out. I’ve got news for you, Labour are done. Some might be hoping for a new party to miraculously emerge. Well, where is it then?

But they are not wrong. It is a huge opportunity for a progressive party. This party.

All you generals without armies, here’s your army. You want a vehicle. Get on board. You want a movement. Move. Stop waiting for something to happen. Join us and make something happen.

Our role is to be the real opposition this country needs. Our purpose is to create a better future for Britain. Our ambition is to change the country we love for the better.

Our time has come.

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One response to “Lib Dems are Britain’s best vehicle for political change – Tim Farron”

  1. How can Tim claim to be the only party apposing a ‘hard Brexit’ when Lib Dems are not even the largest party in the House of Commons opposing ‘Brexit’.
    The largest party opposing Brexit is the SNP. Now despite living in Scotland I am not an SNP member, indeed I was born and lived most of my life in England. I believe in Subsidiarity – its in the Lib Dem constitution that they do as well. Tims comments do not lie comfortably with this.

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