Tim Farron: How The Lib Dems Are Fighting Back

23/09/2015_Tim Farron
Britain's Liberal Democrat party leader, Tim Farron in Bournemouth, Britain September 23, 2015. The Liberal Democrats made gains in recent elections. Peter Nicholls/Reuters

It's been a week since the U.K's local election frenzy and the Westminster bubble has already gone back to the usual grind of who is up, who is down and what new outlandish statement can be conjured in the Brexit debate.

But the result that no one has really talked about is that the Liberal Democrats have made more gains than any other party: 45 seats. The Conservatives and Labour are both down.

The BBC estimates our national support at 15 percent, making us the third party in politics again. Our percentage vote has almost doubled since last year. Contrast that with 2010 when we lost 411 seats.

The Liberal Democrats are fighters—our members up and down the country have fought an incredible campaign. The job of rebuilding was monumental, and there is still masses to do. But it is now underway and we move towards the EU referendum and then on to the 2020 election with renewed energy.

The space to fill, the liberal space for a socially just and fiscally credible party, has never been bigger. Just look at what has happened to the Labour Party recently.

The shambolic handling in relation to accusations of anti-Semitism in recent weeks from the Labour MP Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone, an ally of the far left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, demonstrated that hateful views are as prevalent on the far left of politics as on the far right. But it also shows to me how the politics of the placard, if stoked by hatred and left unchallenged, can warp into something much more extreme.

The sight of Ken Livingstone—a member of Labour's National Executive Committee and former Mayor of London—touring television studios spouting more and more ill-informed, divisive rhetoric grew in offensiveness with every interview.

Meanwhile, another day passes and the Conservatives are left unchallenged by the party claiming to be the main opposition. It has been almost a year since the U.K. general election, and Labour are failing to hold the Conservatives to account. Something has to change.

I understand why many centre-left voters felt unable to support the Liberal Democrats during the years of the Coalition government. Regardless of what we were delivering, they simply felt that they could not vote for a party who were in government with the Conservatives. In election after election some progressives hovered, pen in hand, in the polling booth and many decided they could not put a cross in the Liberal Democrat box.

This year, we are not in Coalition but are still fighting to deliver a fairer, more liberal society. Since the end of the Coalition the Liberal Democrats have increased our membership by over 20,000 and won more council by-elections than any other party.

We are fighting to protect our local communities and the services they rely on against the attacks this Conservative government is subjecting them to—forcing local schools to become academies, the shambles of the junior doctors' contracts and cuts to police funding.

We are also standing up for the most vulnerable. We are calling on the government to offer haven to 3,000 refugee children and to give refuge to the Afghan interpreters who bravely stood by our soldiers. We're also opposed to the government's attack on Universal Credit and disability benefits.

Labour are now divided and divisive. They are meant to be an opposition but their own civil war consumes all their energy and attention. Meanwhile they are failing to hold the government to account. The Conservatives have a slim majority and yet are able to act like they have a majority of hundreds.

Last week's elections show we have made a step forward. But there is still much work to do.