The Liberal Democrats have announced that Tim Farron has been elected party leader. Speaking at a recent British Future hustings, he pledged that his leadership would be “spiky” and that he would seek to raise the profile of his party by taking an uncompromisingly positive approach on both immigration and Europe. Farron also expressed an ease with combining his English, British and European identities, suggesting he could support an English national anthem for English teams.
Speaking alongside his leadership rival Norman Lamb at our ‘identity hustings’ event in London in early July, Farron said: “First of all we have to be un-nuanced in our positivity about immigration because there’s no room for a party on 8% to be anything other than un-nuanced. We need to be very clear and get traction out of that. And no-one else is going to argue for immigration the way that we do.”
On the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, he called for “an EU solution”, but one in which Britain is more “muscular” in terms of leadership and offering places for refugee resettlement. He added “I don’t know what our fair share is, but it’s a darn sight more than we’re taking now.” He also said that he would visit Calais to see the problems there at first hand: “I’d go to Calais, I’d be seen amongst those people, I’d want people to see with their own eyes” he said.
Closer to home, Farron conceded that the Liberal Democrats need to do much more to make the party look more like Britain in terms of gender and ethnicity. “The reality,” he said, “is that we don’t look like the Britain we aspire to represent and we need to do something about that. I believe in positive action, frankly, to deal with that. We have eight members of parliament all of whom are white blokes… I would absolutely guarantee to having a minimum of 50:50 balance when it comes to gender amongst my spokesperson team, and a minimum or 10%, perhaps 15%, at least, BAME.”
Looking forwards to the referendum on Britain’s EU membership, he said:
“I have my great concerns about how Europe operates, but I’m not going to go into a referendum campaign and ask people to vote ‘yes but’. I don’t love the [European] Commission. But I love the Poles, and I love the Germans, and I love the French, and I love our neighbours.”
“If you’re trying to win a referendum now is not the time for nuance. You either back it, or you’re against it. And I’m going to back it.”
Farron was also asked a question from the audience about English identity, and whether there should be an ‘Anthem for England’ to distinguish England’s sporting teams from those of other nations of Britain. He declared himself ‘at ease’ with the idea of having an English anthem and surprised the audience by suggesting “World in Motion“, England’s 1990 football World Cup song by New Order for England. “I could do the John Barnes rap for you right now,” he added. But he didn’t.