Our Liberal Democrat constitution is clear. Liberal Democrats exist “to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”.
The case for liberal democracy is as strong now as ever. In spite of economically difficult times for many, liberal activists and parties are growing in strength and influence around the world. And there is a rapidly growing number of people here who want liberalism to grow and flourish now. Liberal Democrat membership has grown from 45,000 to over 60,000 since 7 May. Across the country, there is renewed activity, determination and energy. Despite May’s election, political circumstances are propitious. The Conservative Government is already doing many things which liberals are determined to fight.
The Labour Party clearly has a huge existential problem and is no longer clear what it stands for. The opportunity for liberals to offer an alternative to Conservatives has in some ways never been greater since the 1920s. The policies delivered in Scotland by the nationalists, in Wales by Labour and in London by the Conservative Mayor have failed in many ways. So, next year’s elections in Scotland, Wales, London, and many English councils will give Liberal Democrats much immediately to campaign on.
We start the period of Tim Farron’s leadership with only a small Commons band. But we also have strong teams in Edinburgh and Cardiff, nearly 2,000 councillors, our MEP, and our large troop in the Lords. The new leader knows what to do. He must and will unite, inspire, and enthuse the party, involving supporters of both candidates in one big campaign for liberalism, determined to rebuild – and quickly. The clarion calls dreadfully muffled in the last year must be heard in all our communities: freedom, democracy, respect for our planet, a decent quality of life for all, and much greater equality in our still horribly unequal country. We must turn our policy and philosophy into practice where we govern and into campaigns where we do not. We need a massive housing programme of council, social rent, and other affordable housing, and help for the mentally ill. We must champion political reform to restore the link between voters’ views and election results. We must be the party of internationalism and of Europe, and a movement which values those who have chosen to live here.
The challenge for Liberal Democrats is to show where we are distinctive from the other parties. Liberals and Liberal Democrats are at our best when we are at our most radical and we have succeeded most when we have been most brave. We are ready and willing to be brave and radical again.
Simon Hughes was deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2010 to 2014Reuse content