Monday, November 01, 2010


Exclusive: ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ By Tim and Susan – and Jennie!

There’s only a week to go in the hard-fought Presidential election between two of the Liberal Democrats’ most impressive performers – but back a month ago, I put three questions to each of them, and to Jennie Rigg, who but for a handful of nominations was so nearly the third runner in the race. So here are those nine answers, with each of them saying what they believe the Liberal Democrats stand for, why people should vote for us… And being put on the spot with a personally tailored ‘nasty question’ I wanted to hit them with. Remember to vote! And, as I wrote yesterday, if you’re a Lib Dem Conference Representative, make sure you vote in all the other big internal elections, too (and consider voting for a bit of politics, while you’re at it…).

Remember Lib Dem Conference in Liverpool in September? Yes, I’m afraid that’s how long it’s taken me to type all this up, but here are the answers at last. I hope you’ll think about them if you’ve not yet voted: for me, the questions about what we stand for are the most important for any Lib Dem seeking office. I’ve asked the same of people who wanted to be my local PPC, and of people who are now Cabinet Ministers (and some have answered a lot better than others). So here are what Susan, Jennie and Tim have to say.

I interviewed Tim on Saturday 18th September, chaired by Helen Duffett and along with Nick Thornsby, Sara Bedford, Joe Jordan and Millennium Dome, Elephant. I was triple-booked when Susan met bloggers, so the very lovely Stephen Tall was kind enough to put my questions and take notes on my behalf (you might also like to read the detailed write-ups of that interview from Mary Reid and Andy Hinton). If you’re following the link from yesterday’s Halloween post, you might think of him as my medium – thank you very much, Spooky Stephen! And, finally, though there wasn’t the opportunity for a full cross-examination of Jennie by a similar group, she let me take her to one side on the final day and ask her some questions in the rain.

Those two key questions in full:
“Increasingly, people say of politicians that ‘They’re all the same’. This is an even bigger danger now we’re in coalition. So I’d like to ask two simple questions to get two very brief answers from you about what really fires you up and about what you hope will inspire other people.
“In just a sentence or two, what do the Liberal Democrats stand for?
“And in just a sentence or two, why should people vote Liberal Democrat?”

What Do the Liberal Democrats Stand For?

Tim Farron:
“We’re a party that believes in genuine freedom. Genuine freedom only exists if you have the means to exercise it. So it means the freedom to decide what kind of life you want to lead, freedom of choice about your personal circumstances, about where you want to live, about what sort of life you want to live, who you want to live it with – but also about having freedom to have a home, to work, to have access to decent healthcare. It’s a distinctly Social Liberal concept of freedom. And also a fundamental acknowledgement that the biggest single bar to freedom is poverty.”
Susan Kramer:
“Freedom and fairness – it’s overused and trite, but it’s why I joined the party. Labour’s surveillance state is terrifying, and the Tories would do nothing about it but for Liberal Democrats being involved. I have lived in the USA, so I treasure the notion of social justice as the centre of our tradition, along with a genuine opportunity to be involved in decision-making.”
Jennie Rigg:
“The best and only answer? It’s on the back of our membership card, balancing the ideals of liberty, equality and community that we carry around all the time.”

Why Should People Vote Liberal Democrat?

Susan Kramer:
“The Liberal Democrats are in tune with the kind of Britain voters want to see. People want to be sure individuals are respected, communities are balanced and the vulnerable are looked after, at the core of government concern. Standing up for freedom – that is very central to the British tradition. Just think of the rhetoric around our role in the two World Wars that members of my family fought in for those freedoms. Freedom matters; social justice matters; that’s why you should vote for the Liberal Democrats. And I’ve always championed the environmental movement – I remember that being seen as freakish but for the Liberal Democrats, yet now it’s mainstream.”
Jennie Rigg:
“For what we stand for, and because unlike the other two parties, we don’t decide policy on ideology, but on what will work. Particularly in a time of austerity, there’s no point in throwing money at things that don’t work.”
Tim Farron:
[Continuing directly from previous answer!] “And why should people vote Liberal Democrat? Because we’re the only people who think that. The Labour Party say they will give you the latter… They didn’t, in thirteen years – they talk about the economics, the kind of freedom from poverty, but one of the reasons I joined the Liberals and not the Labour Party under Mrs Thatcher in Lancashire in 1986, was because they’re an illiberal party, they’re a very illiberal party, an authoritarian party, a conservative party, and we’re a radical party, a party that believes in genuine tolerance, and understands and gets freedom on every level.
“More pithy – probably not pithy enough. But we’ll get better!”

The Nasty Questions

Jennie Rigg: You’re up against an MP and ex-MP, both of whom have a big impact already on the media. Nobody’s heard of you; when even Ros as a peer didn’t get on TV, why will they think you’re credible?
“Well, the media don’t think any of us are credible! But I’m difficult to miss – people remember me. And I already have a new media infrastructure. Most importantly, I can show every member – you can stand up and do it!”
Tim Farron: The Party effectively has two Deputy Leaders – one chosen by the MPs, the other a President chosen by the members. How much of a clash should there be between the two, and are you going for this one as your consolation prize second choice because you failed to get the other – or to follow the example of some past Presidents in raising your media profile in the hope of becoming the next Leader?
“It would have been wrong if Simon had been the only candidate for Deputy. There’s not a fag paper between us on ideology; he’s a great friend, and he said he was grateful for the contest. I won the hustings, and lost everything else! Look, I wasn’t planning to stand for either position – I only heard about President a week ago – and I wouldn’t stand in normal circumstances, but these aren’t normal circumstances. I get to hear the good things we’re doing in Government, but there are 60,000 members who don’t get to listen to Vince’s soothing words in the corridors. I want to connect the Party to our people in Government. There’ll be no freelancing – Simon and Nick are joined at the hip. This’ll be a different sort of Presidency because of the situation we’re in – we don’t need to restructure after Ros’ hard work and the loss of POLD money. What we do need is a distillation of what we stand for. I joined the Party at 16, I love the Party, I’m delighted we’re in power – but I’m terrified at what that might do to us. And a lot of people feel that way. The President should communicate why we should belong and why we should believe. And I honestly hope Nick will be Leader for so long that I’ll be too old when he goes!”
Susan Kramer: Why should the Party Presidency be a consolation prize for losing your seat?
“I don’t need consolations. I’ve had a wonderful time with the Party, and made a real difference to Liberal Democrats in London, not only as an MP but also as a London mayoral candidate. I’ve had 5 years as MP – I would never have not have done that. I feel incredibly privileged. My heart goes out to PPCs who slogged their guts out but at the end of a brilliant campaign, they didn’t win. I had 5 years I’ll always have. So now, I’m standing for the Presidency because I can, because I’ve been so lucky, for the party and for the grassroots who have campaigned for me as MP and for Mayor of London over the years. If I can make those people feel better.”

If you want to put your own questions, try the Presidential hustings meeting around the country. Helen Duffett has already conducted an online hustings which you can view, and also organised a London hustings for this Wednesday. If there isn’t a hustings you can get to, send them your questions directly – Susan on Twitter and on her own site, and Tim on Twitter (twice!) and on his own site.

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