I spotted the Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Tim Farron in a pub on Whitehall, enjoying half a pint of lager and nachos with fellow party activists after marching in defence of the Human Rights Act. He kindly agreed to speak to The Spectator and you can watch above what we discussed.
As part of his leadership campaign, Farron, who remains the bookies’ favourite, has suggested the party must focus on particular campaigns and causes instead of acting like a traditional small political party. Human rights is one topic in particular he feels will motivate activists and believes that the party’s efforts so far helped to keep a British Bill of Rights out of the Queen’s Speech:
‘I think the campaign we’ve been running on humans rights these last few weeks has helped test the Tories nerve and perhaps they have bottled it. We don’t know that — perhaps they’ve bottled it by not mentioning the abolition of the Human Rights Act in the detail of the Queen’s Speech.
Even so, Farron remains concerned about what the Tories are planning to do and said his party will be ‘at the forefront of fighting for these freedoms’. After five years of keeping (mostly) silent in coalition, Farron is relishing a return to the Tory-bashing days of old:
‘What was in the Queen’s Speech was the likely introduction of data surveillance, which is an even greater threat to our civil liberties and indeed the completely divisive and counterproductive raising of anti-extremism orders. All these things are a threat to civil liberties, a threat to community cohesion as well. So human rights are on the table whether they challenge this act or not.’
The Liberal Democrats have managed to attract over 14,000 new members since May 7, with its total membership now exceeding 55k. At the rally today, Farron found it ‘massively encouraging’ that half of the crowd present were newly paid up members and believes there is an opportunity to recruit even more.
‘What we’ve seen these last three weeks is this realisation that via the Liberal Democrats absence from a government alongside Conservatives, you see what we brought to the table and why liberalism is absolutely essential…there are millions of people who count themselves as liberals and they realise they need to put their money where their mouths are to be not just liberals but Liberal Democrats.’
A massive thank you to everyone who came to the protest to defend the Human Rights Act. Human Rights matter! pic.twitter.com/o3v3poIodO
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) May 30, 2015
But with just eight MPs, the party has no choice but to spread its resources more carefully. More members, he says, will lead to turning the party into a movement.
‘The smaller we are in Parliament, the bigger the issues we need to campaign on must be — and the more ambitious we need to be as the campaigning goes forward…the Liberal Democrats survival and thriving as a political movement is all about getting out there and building a movement for the twenty first century. Not the kind of Edwardian model that all of our party have become’
But does that mean the Liberal Democrats will give up on rebuilding their Westminster ambitions if he becomes leader? Farron denies this and says he believes the party can do both:
‘We have absolutely huge Parliamentary ambitions but what we’re not going to do is play a silly, sterile game in Westminster, which will trap us and mute us…in the House of Commons, we’ve got to use our weight but punch above it. We’re going to pick issues like housing, like Human Rights, like climate change to get out there and make a difference.’
Latest odds for next Liberal Democrat leader – via Ladbrokes: Tim Farron 1/8. Norman Lamb 9/2.