Tim Farron: Westminster Update (February)

It’s already February and the campaign tension is mounting, as I write it’s 86 days to go! But let’s not forget that it’s not just about a general election. As a party we excel at grassroots level. Keeping in touch with our communities and understanding their concerns is what sets us apart in the world of national politics. So the local government elections are going to be crucial because they’re about maintaining our relationship with local communities and being the most credible voice in local politics.

Being in the coalition was never going to be easy. But my view is clear – councillors like yourself are the best advert we have for our party, you are steeped in your communities, have a strong record and get things done.

Over the past few days I’ve been to Cambridge, where the team are going great guns. It’s inspiring to see, and confirms my belief that if we keep putting the message out there we can prove that we genuinely have something important and worthwhile to say. Ashfield, Oxford and Southwark were also bursting with energy, and I’m sure that I’ll find the same thing in Montgomeryshire and Ludlow. I’m in awe of the work you put in at local level to carry the Lib Dem message, and of the enthusiasm that’s driving your engagement with the voters.

One of the major platforms for canvassing will always be our core liberal values. And these will be as important at local as at national level in the weeks to come. One of our strongest records is in protecting civil liberties and the rights of those whom other parties seek to castigate. In government we have ended the shameful practice of child detention, and I’m proud of that fact. Now we’re intent on ending indefinite detention of people who come to this country for refuge and to start a new life. Whilst UKIP and the Tories vie with each other for anti-immigration soundbites, we need to challenge the rising tide of extremism and nationalism which is starting to erode the rights of all save the few who fall within the increasingly narrow definition of ‘us’. We have to stand up for the rights of those who are denied a voice. Of the major parties, only we have made this commitment. And I’m proud of that, too.

Another big achievement is Ed Davey’s announcement of the country’s first ever community energy strategy. Lib Dems in government are helping communities to power themselves. Ed set up his Department’s first community energy team, dedicated to supporting projects across the UK which might be small-scale but which will make a big difference. That’s good news nationally, but it’s fantastic news for local government. It’s a great example of empowering local communities to run their own affairs and to do it effectively and sustainably. As a blueprint for a greener, cleaner Britain there’s little to beat it. And when residents on the doorstep tell you they think energy prices are too high and what are we doing about it, tell them that Labour left 99% of the energy market in the hands of the Big 6 energy companies, and that Lib Dems in government have succeeded in trebling the number of smaller energy firms which has allowed 2 million people to switch supplier and save money.

And finally, when we’re out on the doorsteps let’s not forget one of our most major differences from the other parties. The EU. We benefit from being in Europe, we get a lot out of Europe, and we should stay in Europe. The Tories are running too scared of UKIP to make the case, and Labour are too cowardly to speak out about it even though they know we should stay in. So it’s down to us to shout loudly about the good of being a member, and make it very clear that we will demand change. We recognise the growing dissatisfaction of voters who feel European bureaucrats are remote and largely unaccountable. There are things the EU should do and does well, but the increasingly bloated nature of the administration is wasteful and expensive. Lots of issues are better dealt with at national level, and just as we believe in devolution within the UK, we will pursue devolution within the EU.

Hopefully these issues and others like them will make canvassing for the coming elections that little bit more motivating. We have to prove our mettle once again, and I know that around the country people are already embracing that challenge. It’s from here that we will rebuild our community base and reignite our connection with the electorate. We have great stories to tell – let’s make sure people hear them.

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