Notebook: Tim Farron on the campaign trail

The importance of red lines, the children are the future, and whatever happened to foreign policy?

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Suffer the little children

Last week I popped into one of our local primary schools to get a grilling from the Year 6s. The questions were impressive. Do we get a vote on the kind of coalition we want? Which leader do you most envy? Questions like that don’t just appear out of thin air – they are the result of inquiring minds nurtured by supportive parents and talented teachers. That talent can't be applied for free – the unavoidable truth is that if we want to keep up and improve our education, we have to invest money in it. And I don’t want to work with any party that is content to let inflation, population growth or political convenience strangle education. Nick Clegg has set out our top non-negotiables: we will not go into Coalition with anybody who plans to cut education funding. Under our manifesto plans, we would spend £2.5bn more than Labour, £5bn more than the Tories. Children should not pay for the economic extravagance of previous governments. The consequences of government decisions on education echo in people’s lives long after politicians have left office. We must not starve a generation of resources they need to learn.

When to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, and when to walk away

To strike a good deal in negotiations, you have to be prepared to walk away from the table. So red lines should do more than help you predict the way the dust will settle after the turbulence this coming Thursday; they should reveal the kind of character of the players, not just the likely outcome of the game.  So I’m worried by Cameron. On Question Time, he chose a single issue which most people in Britain wouldn’t stake the future of the country on… We picked our red lines carefully – £8bn on the NHS, increasing education funding, a stability budget, a £12,500 income tax threshold. No deal, we walk away. Europe is vital to our country but a diverting obsession to large minority of our politicians.  Does this issue really eclipse every single other decision in people’s minds? More than their children’s education, their parents’ healthcare, their own income? 

Placing all his eggs in the UKIP basket, Cameron has gambled on a policy which hugely misrepresents both the key challenges facing the country and the priorities of 90% of the population.

Short term economic scan

If I had to give a master class in short-term election bribery masquerading as a long term economic plan, I would look no further than Conservative housing policy.  You do not solve a housing crisis by selling off homes to lucky individuals with a scandalous discount. You exacerbate it. But perhaps if you dress it up right (as expanding homeownership) you could maybe buy a few votes

Taking long term decisions is rarely popular in a quick-fix culture focussed on instant gain. Poll-based and focus-group obsessed politics magnifies our instinctive tendencies, dissecting what people like, how they like it said and when they like it delivered to a forensic accuracy. But when this is all you have to guide your decision making, no wonder politics disappoints.  The Conservatives promise an end to the housing crisis, but deliver only a partial solution which isn’t even a sticking plaster, it’s adding salt to a wound. What we need to do is build more homes, including social rented homes that don’t get sold off to whoever has happened to live in them for three years. The Liberal Democrats want to end the housing crisis for everyone, especially young people, not just a lucky few. 

The world elsewhere

Whoever wins next Thursday will face daunting global challenges, though predictably, those challenges are barely given a nod in the campaign. With the exception of Europe and, at a push, Mediterranean migration, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Britain has no other pressing foreign policy decisions to make.  Yet instability in the Middle East, extremism, deals on climate change and development, the rise of China, and an unrepentant Russia will all shape Britain in the years to come. With ISIS recruiting British teenagers using social media, any party that sidelines foreign policy risks sidelining its own people.  Even if isolationism really was in our best interests (which it isn’t), it’s impossible.

We are a major player on the world stage. We need to work with others, across borders, planning for the long term, valuing conflict prevention.  Lib Dems have long argued for this approach, both in and out of Government – it’s why we fought the Tories to giving 0.7% GNI in aid. Why we want to end Female Genital Mutilation, why we say no to like-for-like Trident replacement. We won’t build a safe Britain without a mature approach to the rest of the world. 

The kids are alright

I usually put my headphones in and put my head down to work on the scenic train from London to my constituency in the South Lakes. But the other day I got chatting to a young lad, Jamie. He’s 15 years old and he is not taking Russell Brand’s confused approach to politics seriously. He’s got stuck in, stuffing envelopes, canvassing, delivering leaflets in the fickle South Lakes weather. He’s even bartered a day off school to help on polling day.

I’m hugely blessed by the volunteers who help out in my office – we cover pretty much every age from 9 to 90. I count myself lucky to have a job that is also my hobby and my passion, but it’s an even greater privilege to see other people giving up their weekends because they share the same vision as you. At least, I’m pretty sure it’s not because the biscuits in our office are that good... Anyone should feel able to get involved in politics, whatever their income, background or age. And when they do we are all better off for it. 

Tim Farron is Member of Parliament for Westmorland and Lonsdale and a former leader of the Liberal Democrats.