2016 can be a year of hope and opportunity

Tim Farron photo

Tim Farron MP

Tim Farron’s New Year Message

The New Year is a time to look forward and it is as important for us as a party to set ourselves new goals and ambitions as it is as individuals.

I am determined that the Liberal Democrats face the new year with a new sense of purpose, a new drive and a sense of ambition.

David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn both lead parties that are fundamentally divided. Whether it is over Europe, like the Conservatives, or their leader, like Labour, both the government and the official opposition are at war with themselves.

This obsession with their own internal problems is bad for politics and bad for Britain.

For the Conservatives, David Cameron and George Osborne are more and more obsessed with appeasing their backbenchers, resulting in policies that are punishing people that are trying to provide for themselves and their families. To make things worse, they are taking a wrecking ball to public services, particularly local government.

With Labour, there is open disagreement between members of the Shadow Cabinet and Jeremy Corbyn. As they desperately scrap to hang together, they are failing to hold the government to account. They are giving the Conservatives a free ride.

The SNP and UKIP are just as bad. In Scotland, the SNP is letting public services deteriorate. They are pretending that decisions in London are all to blame, not taking responsibility for their own decisions in Edinburgh. As for UKIP, it can’t even get the support of its one and only MP.

We enter 2016, politically speaking, with other parties only really caring for themselves. Labour, Tory, the SNP and UKIP are putting their own party interests ahead of the interests of those that elected them.

This cannot be right. I have had enough of licking our wounds after the general election. We need to show how we can make a difference. While other parties turn inwards, we must take our inspiration and our motivation from the people around us.

There are two things that run in our blood as Liberal Democrats. We believe in standing up for our communities. And we believe in challenging power. Whether in Whitehall, local council chambers, in the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament, we will not simply accept the status quo and we will do all we can to stand up for the people around us.

Liberalism is fundamentally optimistic about the desire of people to take control of their own lives. Liberal Democrats believe that means having flourishing communities, with well-resourced, well-targeted and well-managed services that enable people to make choices to improve their lives.

And when those communities are threatened by government cuts that are driven by narrow Tory politics, we need to challenge those behind them and offer something very different.

Door by door, street by street, town by town, we will make a difference where it matters. We may only be eight MPs, but across the country we have hundreds and hundreds of councillors and even more members of the party determined to speak up for their local areas. We also have over a hundred members of the House of Lords prepared to challenge this government, just as they did when they called for the planned cuts to tax credits to be scrapped.

As Liberal Democrats, we have a gut instinct for things that are unfair and unjust. As tireless campaigners, Liberal Democrats need to take the fight to where the decisions are made: whether that is the community hall, the town hall or the House of Commons.

Labour have lost that gut instinct. Waving placards in Parliament Square, hurling abuse on Twitter and having Momentum wreak havoc isn’t challenging the Tories, whatever Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters think.  It’s not going to stop a single library from being closed, or create an extra job. It might make them feel good, but it won’t make any difference.

Instead, it is the Liberal Democrats that are challenging David Cameron and George Osborne’s duplicity when they pretend to protect the police budget, yet sneak out a £200m cut.

It is the Liberal Democrats that are pointing out that, at the same time as Cameron and Osborne offer warm words to people whose homes are destroyed by floods, the budgets that will help prevent flooding in the future and help towns and villages get back on their feet are being cut.

And as the Tories U-turn on tax credits, it is the Liberal Democrats who have spotted their massive assault on working families through an extraordinary raid on Universal Credit.

The list goes on and on.

Things that are meant to make our communities stronger for the future, and help people make informed choices, are being swept away by this government. In just a few months we have seen swingeing cuts to the green energy sector putting 35,000 jobs at risk, Freedom of Information being eroded, protections for older people in care being thrown out, investment in mental health treatments delayed, plans for social housing to be sold off, politically motivated immigration rules, and a dogmatic refusal to do the generous, open hearted thing and support the thousands of people fleeing war and persecution from Syria.

And could there be a more perfect image of the need to challenge the way the Tories are running Britain than seeing David Cameron happily enjoying a Christmas Party with Rupert Murdoch?

Out of Coalition, the Tories are arrogant, deceitful and out of touch.

Britain deserves better.

The coalition set this country on a path to recovery. With interest rates at an historic low, we should borrow to invest in infrastructure, such as housing and transport, whilst recognising that the future of Britain lies in providing opportunities for young people to contribute fully. We should not be straitjacketed by an artificial and economically illiterate surplus. We should embrace the opportunity of the challenger economy, making it easier for small businesses and entrepreneurs to thrive and challenge the big corporates.

We must be proud of our role on the world stage. We must play our part in welcoming desperate people fleeing war, do the British thing in providing home to children orphaned by conflict. And we must stand tall in the world. In Europe, Britain can thrive. Together we will be a stronger and more prosperous nation, creating opportunity for future generations, respected all over the world.

And as I said at the beginning, we must stand up for our communities. We must make clear to Westminster and Whitehall that they cannot keep asking local government to pay for central government’s mistakes.

This year Liberal Democrats offer an alternative. 2016 can be a year of hope and opportunity. Britain can be a fairer, less unequal and more optimistic place, true to its values.

Standing up for our communities and challenging power. In 2016 we must do exactly that.

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