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It’s time we ‘progressives’ stopped hectoring

Tim Farron and pro-EU activist Steve Bray outside the Houses of Parliament. (Photo: Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

December 18, 2019 - 12:16pm

We on liberal, Left and Remain wings of politics are feeling battered and bruised by the election result. I am thankful to have been re-elected, and want to give a friendly welcome to the green benches to the new Parliamentarians, but I feel hugely sad for all those who lost their seats.

Why did we fare so badly? Beyond the Labour Party post mortem on the cons and cons of Jeremy Corbyn, those who consider themselves ‘progressives’ have become far too focused on having the ‘correct’ ideology. We talked about the importance of being European and enlightened. We paraded our certainty in having a superior and worthier outlook to those on the right, when we would have connected better with our fellow citizens by emphasising the practical and patriotic reasons why staying in the EU would be good for families and the UK.

We failed to understand the appeal of the emotional, populist politics of the right, and instead sneered at those who did not hold the ‘correct views’. But our version of identity politics alienated many. It simply made us seem as though we disapproved of most of the country.

Emily Thornberry may not have told a fellow MP that their constituents were more stupid than hers, but she did resign from Labour’s front bench in 2014 after a mocking tweet of a picture of a white van outside a house bedecked with St George’s flags.

So, bluntly, we should not expect people to vote for us if it seems that we look down on them. We should not be cross at Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings for taking advantage of this attitude. We gave them an open goal and they simply tapped the ball in.

Actually I don’t buy the idea that there is a liberal elite. Certainly, there is a much larger conservative reactionary elite; but to many people in the country, this latter elite seems somehow more ‘authentic’. That’s bogus, of course, but to quote George Burns, if you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.

But I don’t want us to fake it. I want us to stop hectoring the country, to love our country warts and all.

My patch in Westmorland bucked the trend. On the national swing I should have been toast, but we won. How did we win? Well, it wasn’t carefully crafted or contrived, but we talked about the issues that were actually relevant to people’s lives. Over many years we cared for them, and we have affection for the communities we seek to represent, and it showed. We haven’t faked this affection. It is real, and it allows us to reach out to people who think very differently to us politically, theologically and philosophically.

This post-election reflection period is a pivotal moment for the winners and the losers. Those who won should not be triumphalist in their victory, and further widen the divisions in our society. And those who lost need to understand what aspects of our approach we need to change, and to let go of any bitterness. Let us continue to stand up for what we believe in, and to continue to campaign for it. But let us also learn how to disagree well with others and not berate them for not thinking exactly as we do. We will never earn the right to run the country until we learn to love its people, and seek first to understand.

Tim Farron is a Liberal Democrat and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.


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