I put meeting in inverted commas because we didn’t actually meet or speak but I got to see him and listen to what he had to say. Tim did tweet me and say that it was lovely to meet me, which I laughed at on the train home when I saw it. I’ll put it down to the amount of people that he has had to meet and greet in the past few weeks but if he can tell me who I was then I’ll be impressed. I’ll give a hint at the end of this blog post.
So yesterday I had nothing on and I knew Tim was heading down to Guildford so I thought I’d pop on down to meet him (which I didn’t) and to listen to what he had to say (which I did). I had been informed by most people that had met him that he was an extremely impressive individual both face-to-face and in small groups. I have already written about how I think that he is more effective across the media than his leadership rival Norman Lamb so that wasn’t up for debate in my mind.
First things first, my gut reaction was that Tim was shattered after a long leadership contest where no doubt he has driven/been driven and leaned on the railways up and down the country for hustings and meet and greets with various local parties. I didn’t sense the energy that others had told me he had. I am happy to put this down to being at the end of this campaign though, I cannot imagine how I’d be after such a schedule and Guildford was his final stop on the road and I understand he had already had several stops on that Saturday.
The whole idea of energy being an important factor in politics in an interesting one. I don’t want an Ironman as leader. I want someone who is a leader, an effective communicator and someone who can reach out to beyond the current Liberal Democrat voter demographic. So this whole idea of needing bundles of energy I think is a newfangled thing that isn’t that important anyway.
More importantly I wanted to hear what he had to say. He walked in to rapturous applause and I glanced around to see a lot of excited faces. It reminded me of a rock star somewhat and not of a leader. When I met Nick Clegg and he walked into the room I didn’t sense he was a rock star, I sensed he was a leader. That was one distinct difference that I immediately felt.
On to what he had to say though and several things stood out that I certainly agreed with. This naval gazing bollocks that is going on (he didn’t use the term bollocks – I am) is not how you earn back the trust and the votes of the electorate. You start getting back the trust by speaking to people and telling them of what you stand for and what you’ll fight for – certainly at local level. If there are issues that effect people that councillors can help with then you need to work hard and tell people that you’ll help them. You don’t get votes without people knowing that you are out there fighting for them in this current climate.
Secondly about black holes or as he preferred to name them, Lib Dem deserts. He said that the best way to start fixing this is to ‘Pick a ward and win it’. All parties have areas where they aren’t natural territory for them but they can still win there. Locally we can see that on Rochford District Council where Cllr. Chris Black does an excellent job in his ward of Downhall & Rawreth where he is joined by Cllr. Ron Oatham. This isn’t what you’d call natural Lib Dem territory but the ward has been solidly Lib Dem for a while due to hard work by the local Lib Dem group there.
It isn’t exactly breaking any trade secrets to say that the Lib Dems in the east of Southend have issues but the PAWAWI strategy in one that needs to be and will be implemented. I’m not saying the party will win a ward out east in 2016 but you have to have a strategy to start making inroads and have a longer-term ambitions instead of just going from one election to the next.
He was asked about tuition fees and winning back the student vote, replying to this he stated that the fees weren’t the issue but the (perceived) loss of trust. The tuition fees fiasco as I like to call it was one we know Nick Clegg foresaw before the election as he wanted to scrub it from the manifesto knowing it would be hard to keep in any coalition negotiations. He knew it was something that could be hard to keep and would be something that could be used to flog him and the party going forward. Conference voted him down and the rest as the say is history.
Trust is a hard thing to regain in any form of life. Once someone betrays you then you are wary of them for a long time. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me so they say. The Lib Dems went into a coalition with the hated Tories and did an apparent public U-turn on a well publicised policy led to anger. The only way to gain that trust back is by working hard and delivering at local level.
Sadly due to time constraints at the end of the meet and greet many people didn’t get to speak to meet him. As I said earlier about the rock star line, everyone wanted to see, speak and have their picture taken with him and even though it was tried to have him split his time equally between the two tables of Lib Dem members who had rocked up to meet him, the first table wouldn’t let him go and Tim had a train to catch to breathe and see his family, which is fair enough.
I wrote last week about how I was voting for Tim, not because he really spoke to me individually but because I felt he was the right person to speak to the nation as a whole on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. I suspect Norman would be a better voice of British liberalism but people shouldn’t be surprised that I would say such a thing. I’m clearly and unashamedly a Cleggite. I am a Nick Clegg guy and watching him on Sunday Politics this morning there wasn’t one occasion where I winced or drew in breathe at something that he said. He is my guy and he speaks to me.
Yet as Harriet Harman put it so well on Sunday Politics this morning, she urged Labour members not to vote for the person they felt more comfortable with but the person who’ll be able to best deliver the message and lead to electoral success. That seemed to be a veiled (or not so veiled) shot at the rise of Jeremy Corbyn but when it comes to the Lib Dems, this is why Tim Farron is the right man for the gig.
I looked around the group of people who were enthused (to say the least) about meeting Tim and listening to what he had to say. He brought out excitement and people were eager to listen. Yes it was an audience you’d expect to listen but his effective in terms of communication and I suspect the fact he’ll drag the party slightly to the left of centre whereas Norman will stick right in the centre-ground, is something that will appeal to potential Liberal Democrat voters going forward.
I would have liked to hear more about his thoughts on being the radical party of the centre-ground but he didn’t get that opportunity and I could tell time was an issue so I didn’t bring it up. I have long believed that is part of what the Lib Dems should stand for. Sometimes you have to inch closer to where you want to be but sometimes you have to blow things up and start again as it were.
I’d like to know what areas he believes would be better served by starting from scratch and starting again to try and change the culture of an area of government. Personally I have written on multiple occasions about the education system and how I believe it doesn’t best serve the young people of this country to best prepare them for the future. I’m not expecting Tim to say that (although trust me Tim – should you agree with my education PoV then I’m your man) but he must have some gut check areas in life where he believes things would be better served by radical change.
Still overall it was a worthwhile day. I don’t think he was on tip-top form but he said enough (and got the reaction) to make me think he was the right guy for the party going forward. I shall go and post my ballot now (well I say now, I’m sitting in my boxers, I’ll do it after I’ve gotten dressed because no-one wants to see that) and I hope he wins on Thursday. The future of a liberal voice in this country is vital in this age of nationalism that is spreading not only just across this country but also across Europe. His views on the importance of the Welfare State are good and whilst he’s not Nick Clegg, not many people are.
Lastly just to solve the riddle if Tim has indeed read this, has he worked out who I was yet? Have a guess…
Backwards baseball cap, sunglasses and the most ‘outrageous’ (as a date once termed them) sunset orange/yellow Nike Air Max 95 trainers.
We’ll probably meet one day. Until then I shall continue to blog from afar…
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