Tim Farron spent an hour and a half fielding questions from a packed Lecture Theatre in Penwith College, Penzance last night in stark and deliberate contrast to Theresa May’s disastrous visit to Cornwall last week, when the PM now infamously shut local journalists in a small room and would only answer two approved questions in two minutes on a visit to Helston.
Not missing a trick, Tim Farron came back to Cornwall once again (he likes it here!) and at an event organised by last week’s snubbed’s press organisation, Cornwall Live, to boot. Sharing a stage with Andrew George, candidate for St Ives, he answered questions from the floor on a wide variety of topics, unscripted and without notes, live on the internet to thousands. The event obviously attracted many Lib Dem activists and supporters but the event was open to the public, advertised on Corrnwall Live all day and in the end some people had to be turned away at the door.
All other local press were invited (inc CS!) and Mr Farron gave them, and the public, his time freely. He’s a likable fellow, and funny, and has a genuine fondness and affinity with Cornwall – the place, people and culture reminds him of his own constituency, he told us. It’s beautiful but with unseen problems and unique pressures on things like the health service, low wages and housing that rural communities can suffer. He gets it.
The Q & A session had been watched 17,000 people by midnight and generated much interest and positive feedback from viewers. Mrs May must now just wish she’d let those journos through!
“If you haven’t got it in you, to put yourself in the place where people will say something rude, or just different to what you think, what the heck are you doing in politics?” said Mr Farron in his opening speech
“If you want to lead the people, why does it seem you don’t even like the people?” he added.
He made the point several times about the country needing a strong opposition to what looks an inevitable Tory landslide as it would benefit democracy in the country as a whole.
With this landslide inevitable, and with Labour sharing a vision of a hard Brexit with the Tories he argued, the Liberal Democrats are the only place to find a platform for opposition. “I remember what it was like to grow up under Thatcher’s landslide government” he said “She took places like this for granted and Theresa May will take you for granted”.
At one point Mr Farron evoked the memory of the great Cornish liberal of the 70s & 80s, David Penhaligon – saying that what Cornwall needs is people like Penhaligon “who fight for your corner and never give up”. To be Cornwall’s voice in Westminster, not Westminster’s voice in Cornwall.
Referring to the current crop of Cornwall’s party faithful Tory MPs the Liberal Democrat leader said “What you need are Penhaligons not puppets”
Mr Farron then fielded questions from the floor (see Cornwall live FB live replay for whole thing) on topics as diverse as fishing, the health service, transgender rights and trident. Many of the questions were though inevitably about Brexit and the Lib Dem policy to have a referendum on the final Brexit deal.
On fishing, he answered a question from Dave, skipper of the Crystal Sea who wanted to know if the Lib Dems would ‘take our waters back’. It was the only point in the evening Mr Farron looked unsure. He said the best outcome for British fishermen and farmers is to stay inside the single market where by far their biggest exports go.
Mr Farron appealed to Leave supporters who have become concerned that the Conservative party has taken a dangerous lurch to the right or those who voted out but don’t like the look of Theresa May’s hard Brexit. “The reason UKIP are not bothered about losing all their council seats” he quipped ” is because they’ve gained control of the Tory party”. He dismissed any talk of any sort of coalition with the Conservatives or Labour, saying he’d ruled it out as they were both gunning for a hard Brexit.
CS got one cheeky question in at the end – whether as he has an obvious affiliation and fondness for Cornwall, would he ever consider buying a second home here?
Mr Farron’s own constituency of Westmoreland in the Lake District suffers equally from second homes as here he said, where one in 6 houses are holiday homes and average house prices are twelve times the local wage.
So no. Whereas he defends the right for people to do what they like with their money and buy a second home he would “fight to the death for people’s right to own their first home first” and called for changes in planning laws that would cap the number of second homes in affected communities.
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David Penhaligon represented Truro from 1974 – 86 and is considered one of the greatest politicians Cornwall has ever produced. He was a popular figure in all parties and most agree he was destined to be party leader had he not been killed in a car accident just before Christmas in 1986. He is remembered with great affection.
Penhaligon was noted for fighting Cornwall’s causes wherever he could on a national stage and fighting for fairness everywhere, using his charm to influence people.
The Liberal Democrats remember Penhaligon’s ability to recruit and enthuse members through the Penhaligon Award, a trophy presented annually at the party’s autumn party conference to the Local Party which demonstrates the greatest increase in party membership together with activities to develop and involve members and activists.
“You need more in an economy than just tourism, ice cream and deckchairs. Our mining industry is not a figment of the last decade or the last two decades. It has occupied Cornishmen and it has produced wealth for this century, the previous century and probably the last two thousand years; and what we’re asking the government to do is to recognise the great contribution we have made for the wealth of Britain, and in this time of great trial and tribulation to come to our assistance – that’s what we’re asking our government to do”