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In a crisis, one conviction politician leading a group of eight is worth hundreds who are silent.

September 7, 2015 3:03 PM
By Daisy Benson in
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

The grim events surrounding the refugee crisis have shed an important light on developments in our own domestic politics.

Tim Farron is a conviction politician and one we are lucky to have leading our party.

As I wrote last week Tim has led the debate in Westminster calling for a humanitarian response to the refugee crisis - visiting Calais weeks ago when the rest of Westminster was busy contemplating it's navel/Jeremy Corbyn.

The fact his comments have not attracted widespread coverage do not make them any less right. They demonstrate the struggle we Lib Dems face to get our message across in our reduced state.

Tim needed to move the debate on, and he did today, heaping pressure on David Cameron:

Others, most notably Yvette Cooper have commendably followed Tim's lead in calling for urgent action this week. But it would be wrong to say she has led this debate.

Erstwhile leadership candidate, Norman Lamb has also been speaking out - strongly in the face of continued silence from the majority of Tory MPs, proving once again we may not have quantity but we have quality when it comes to our parliamentary party.

Tim's instincts - to work with Labour and campaigning charities to build a coalition of support for refugees outlined in an email to members this evening - are spot on.

If you want to win an argument and change government policy from the Opposition benches (and with only a handful of MPs) you should always be looking to build a platform with like- minded political parties and groups, particularly on moral issues which call for a human response as opposed to a political one.

This has been the first example we can point to of Tim's pledge (made during the leadership campaign) to learn from groups outside Westminster to mobilise public opinion behind liberal causes.

With party politics in this country continuing to be a glorified minority interest sport enjoyed by around 1% of the population, this is clearly the right approach.

During the leadership election Tim made great play of learning from 38 Degrees and other campaign groups to rediscover the Lib Dems' campaigning zeal.

The way in which Tim has sought to team up with these groups in response to #refugeecrisis petition was the first example of this.

Tim is right - there is no need to reinvent the wheel and start a new campaign. When a petition has been launched which meets our aims Lib Dems should get behind it.

People talk sometimes about 'missing the Lib Dems' in government but this was the week the grim Post-coalition difference really hit home.

Last night I was moved to revisit Nick Clegg's comments last year - when he lent on Cameron to open Britain's doors to desperate Syrian refugees brought it home again this week.

Looking at the Tories callous response to this crisis just goes to show what difference a year makes. Left to his own devices and without Nick and the Lib Dems to provide the government's conscience Cameron got it badly wrong this week and looked pretty cruel in the process.

Events this week have also highlighted the fact David Cameron is very vulnerable to fluctuations in public opinion.

He has a tiny majority and this week has shown he cannot afford to fall out of favour with public opinion for long. In a rare move, right and left wing newspapers simultaneously called Cameron's judgement on the refugee crisis into question.

Churchill is often invoked by the right as in 'we will fight them on the beaches' but this time the spirit of 1940 was invoked to draw parallels with Britain's proud history of receiving desperate refugees fleeing Nazism.

As Cameron disappoints supporters on all sides, these headlines could be but a taste of things to come in the coming months and years.

This has been a damaging episode for him and his party, exposing once again the Tories' achilles heel with the public - the perception they are 'the nasty party.'

There is a space in our politics for a conviction politician, a group of conviction politicians, motivated to do the right thing on the big questions - such as those posed by this crisis - not because the press or public demand it but because they know it to be right.

The Lib Dems can and must occupy this space by adopting principled, radical positions - as they have done on the refugee crisis.

Because people elect politicians to take decisions based on reason yes, but on feelings and impulses too.

Rational and relatable - decisions that may not be popular with everyone but that are always justified and articulated according to a clear set of values and ideals.

Leading by the heart as well as the head - something Nick referred to during the election campaign and that Tim is showing he can do effectively in opposition.

If this is to be a callous Tory administration, let the Lib Dems be the ones to offer moral leadership from the backbenches and to galvanise the public into action around key issues.

If we do this effectively we will win more seats at council and constituency level and have the opportunity to become the official opposition in the future, where Labour have failed and are failing.

And finally, the role of female politicians in this crisis has been an interesting side note.

I was particularly pleased to see Jo Swinson speaking out on the crisis.

As I tweeted earlier this week, from Angela Merkel down, female politicians have led the way in responding to the debate around the refugee crisis and I was delighted to see Jo adding her voice.

Can this be an end please to the situation where women - female Lib Dem politicians in particular are confined, some would say unfairly pidgeonholed mainly by the (male-dominated) media framing of the debate, into talking and being questioned solely about issues of equality, motherhood and childcare?