Monday, 23 February 2015

Tim Farron: What diversity means to me

Tim Farron tells the Liberal Democrats' Diversity and Outreach Officer Lucile Kamar about what he feels is his most important work.

Described as “a brave politician” who delivered “the stand out speech out of all the party conferences” by Operation Black Vote, Tim Farron, MP for the constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale is clearly championing diversity.

But what does diversity really mean to Tim? To him, it is very important on an individual, ideological and national level. Diversity is about fostering a society, which enables "people to be who they are" and also about celebrating people for what they can bring to the table. It is this tolerance to the difference of others - whether it is their ethnic group, faith, sexual orientation, part of the country they come from, class or accent, which according to Tim Farron makes Britain ‘a wonderful patchwork of things’.

Tim’s commitment to diversity was recognised late last year when the Patchwork Foundation, an organisation committed to encouraging underrepresented groups to engage and participate in the political process, named him their Liberal Democrat MP of the year. He admitted to being surprised and honoured to have received the award, which was given in primary recognition of the work he has done to reach out to and engage with young people. One of many ways is holding regular football surgeries - and clearly this is working!

Tim joined the Liberal Party, as it was then, when he was 16 years old and to him, young people’s involvement in politics is key to a well-functioning democracy. However, young people’s involvement in party politics is in “massive decline” and Tim stresses that we must “not make the mistake of thinking that young people are only involved in young people’s issues”. He recognises the need to inspire people: “nobody, and that goes for young people too, gets involved in politics unless you inspire them to do so. People vote on the basis of habit or calculation, but they join a party because somebody gets them in their gut”.

Another area that Tim is championing is disability. Before becoming an MP, he was responsible for looking after students with disabilities and special needs at Lancaster University. Finding ways to ensure that those with disabilities “have the same opportunities as everyone else” is a matter close to Tim’s heart. The task of ensuring that those with disabilities were on a ‘level playing field’ to everybody else was ‘a massive honour’ for Tim to carry out during his two years at Lancaster University and, it is a commitment that he has carried forward in his role as a Member of Parliament. One of his most recent success stories was ensuring that, in a new development of twenty homes, two houses were suitable for individuals with disabilities and “multiple needs”. This fight guaranteed that a young man, who was recently disabled as a result of an accident, could move into one of these houses and remain in the village in which he had grown up.

The Liberal Democrats have made big strides forward on this front, not least by electing Baroness Sal Brinton as Party President. She is the first wheelchair user to head up a major political party and her appointment illustrates the party’s commitment to inclusivity, diversity and to ensuring there is opportunity for everyone.

It is his ability to “fight people’s corner”, which Tim finds most rewarding about his job, the thing which gets him out of bed in the morning more than the “glamorous bit, poncing around at Westminster, speaking in the House of Commons and going on telly”. For him the casework, the assistance he and his team provide to help house people, to deal with Government agencies, assisting people who are being wrongly sanctioned with their benefits, people who have disabilities and are being restricted in their work opportunities as a result, is the most important thing he does.



Additional writing by Rachel Haase.