Watching the first conference speech given by Tim Farron MP as the Leader of the Liberal Democrats one word sprung to mind. Authentic. Speaking with his northern twang and genuine 'real' language, he even said he'd never felt as common than when he entered the House of Commons for the first time.
Now, you may not agree with everything he said on perhaps membership of the EU or the current migrant crisis but it was passionate, thoughtful and well-presented. In some ways, and we need to see how Jeremy Corbyn does next week, he did sound like the 'official opposition', a point that was made several times.
The first thing Farron did was to describe the general election defeat in May as "utterly devastating" and that he believed the Liberal Democrats had been "swept out on a wave of fear and grievance", but he did not distance himself from the decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives back in 2010. Put simply, he did not "disagree with Nick." In fact Mr Farron pointed to what was going on in government today without the pressure of the liberal voice. In his view, the poor were carrying the cuts and green energies were being cut for short-term economic gain.
The four central policy points were around housing, the economy, staying in the European Union and immigration.
On housing, Farron said that access to affordable housing affects us all and it was the biggest single issue politicians don't talk about. Farron said Liberal Democrat policy was to see 300,000 homes built a year, for local councils to start building again and to create ten new garden cities.
On the economy, he said that the Lib Dems must be on the side of business, increasing broadband and with interest rates low, now was the time to be ambitious with investments in infrastructure and skills development.
Mr Farron was clear on his campaign platform for the upcoming EU referendum plainly saying "It is time for Britain to lead, not leave." He described Jeremy Corbyn's ambivalence to the EU referendum as a threat to national security and that "no ifs, no buts' (where have we heard that before) the Liberal Democrats would stay united in their fight for the UK to remain in the EU.
The new leader seemed to reach for the distraction of his glass of water to compose himself as he put forward the liberal case for managing the refugee/migration crisis. He described how during a visit to Calais no-one had spoken about the benefits system in the UK they just wanted to be safe and get on. As Mr Farron put it "you don't cling to the bottom of a truck if you're looking for an easy life." He was at his most angered attacking the Prime Minister's response as the "minimum effort for the maximum headline" saying that he wanted Mr Cameron to know that his current approach was not speaking for him or for Britain. Mr Farron finished by urging Britain to opt-in to the EU plan as winter was coming.
Turning inwards to the party itself he said that the Liberals had to rebuild in Charles Kennedy's honour and could not "change lives from the glory of self-indulgent opposition." He also made a wider appeal to anyone, even in other parties, that held liberal views but were being emotionally squeezed by the actions of their current party that "being a spectator is no longer an option."
Judging by the charismatic performance of this Liberal Leader, he has no intention of allowing his party or himself to become spectators in British politics over the next few years. If the Labour Party begins to flounder they may just get their wish to be the "come-back kids."
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