Tim Farron’s conference speech: Inspiring but confused

Those in the auditorium for Tim Farron’s closing speech at Lib Dem autumn conference were witness to a speech that was inspiring, powerful and full of conviction.You can watch the speech below and if you’re a Liberal Democrat it’s very likely that it’ll leave you deeply moved and fired up.

Tim speaks passionately about Europe, the refugee crisis, the fact that the Tories can no longer call themselves the party of business, and properly funding the NHS in turn. On each of these he makes a compelling argument which speaks very clearly to anyone who might be a potential Lib Dem voter.

What he needs, though, and what our party needs, is a strong, powerful narrative strategy to tie these topics together.

From 2010 to 2015 the Tories had a clear and simple message: they were the party with “a long term economic plan” for a better future. Every media appearance had that phrase worked into it. Every major policy (the Northern Powerhouse, austerity, economic growth, etc.) was carefully chosen to reinforce that single core message.

What the Liberal Democrats need right now is that kind of a core message that’s both simple and fundamentally sums up what the party stands for and why people should vote for it. The slogan on Tim’s podium said “Open, Tolerant and United”. Of the four topics his speech covered, only Europe and the refugee crisis fit the slogan. His arguments on the NHS and British business are dead right – but they need to be part of a story we’re telling.

We need to build a narrative, something that goes beyond a list of different reasons to support the Lib Dems and tells a clear story about why people should support us. By moving from “our position on Y is Z so please support us” to “we stand for X and therefore our position on Y issue is Z”, we can create and promote a fully fledged vision for a better, liberal  future.

The Radical Association will be talking more in the near future about what a core message could look like but we urge Tim to work on building one, and exploring what key issues it covers, soon.

That means consistency in campaigning on key areas like housing or education – which Tim Farron has said are his top priorities yet barely mentioned in his speech – and ensuring that priority issues always get mentioned in the little airtime we have. Europe, the NHS and supporting business are great key issues to campaign on, too, but to win we need to build them into a story – about who we are, and why these are part of our vision for Britain.

This might mean a rethink of some of our messaging as a party – but only by telling a story that gets across to the public who we are will we push ahead in rebuilding a core Liberal Democrat vote across the country. We need a narrative which explains what we stand for and underpins our key policies, or we’ll risk fighting with one hand tied behind our back just when there’s a yawning gap in British politics waiting for our policies, and our vision, to fill it.

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