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A Mirror Q&A with Tim Farron

June 20, 2017 3:52 PM
By Sarah Cheung Johnson

Tim Farron portrait in front of Westminster

Sarah Cheung Johnson and Tim Farron MPIt is with some sadness that I write this post as Tim Farron is stepping down as leader of the Liberal Democrats because a Q&A event I attended with him organized by the Daily Mirror displayed all his best qualities: warm, engaging, passionate, witty and his arguments and points based on the most liberal of ideals: analytical and empirical thinking, not populist sloganeering. So although this blog piece was about the Q&A event, it's also a hat-tip to the man who was the Leader when I joined the party, post-Brexit, who made me tear up in Conference speeches and who fought for the 48% this year, instead of capitulating to the so-called 'will of the people' and the dogged Brexiteers who are still selling us a chimera. Thank you for your leadership, Tim.

I was invited over Twitter by the Daily Mirror who wanted a politically representative and diverse group to speak to Tim at the event - I was proud to be the only ethnically Chinese person to be in the room and a LibDem to boot. The event was very casual, 11 of us around a table asking questions we had come up with ourselves but that had been selected with discussion between us and the Mirror journalist to be varied (so not 11 questions on Brexit). The Mirror did a great job on diversity - I met many people I usually don't meet in my day-to-day: The 18 year old super articulate young man from Essex who hadn't had the chance to vote in the Referendum but was for full-on hard Brexit and a proud Tory campaigner, The 65+ year old man, a lifelong Trade Unionist who considered Corbyn not leftwing enough, The Tory businessman who was the walking, talking dictionary of every Leave slogan I've ever heard.

Tim handled the questions which came at him with aplomb - questions on the NHS, Schools funding, why we aren't offering free Tuition Fees, Brexit (mine), mental health, cuts to the police - not one on came up on his faith or his views on LGBT. I most admired his very spirited reply to the most aggressive question: "How can LibDems live with themselves after getting into bed with the people who have always raped and pillaged their way through the country (Tories)." I paraphrase greatly: Tim asked him why Labour continued to elect leaders that the British population could not get behind and allowing the Tories into power, pointing to Kinnock enabling Thatcher and now Corbyn enabling May.

My most interesting conversation though was whilst waiting for Tim to arrive sat next to a 30 year old woman in bright pink that I assumed (and really, after all my canvassing has taught me learn not to assume I know how someone is voting) was either a Labour or maybe Green supporter -- turns out she's a lifelong Tory and campaigned for Vote Leave.

We had a pretty good-humoured chat about Brexit but all she had were the usual lines 'we were fine before in the EU we'll be fine now' 'other countries trade fine not being part of the EU we will be so also'. She wasn't fazed that after nearly a year after the vote we have a shocking lack of detail. She was confident we would conclude both the divorce settlement and the trade deal in 2 years. Easy. And if not (here she shrugged) we default to WTO rules. I pointed out that meant we'd need to agree schedules and quotas with EU first. She was sure that would be fine too. Inside two years? She shrugged again (although I don't personally think she knew what I meant). I pointed out defaulting to WTO would mean tariff of 10% on cars putting every car manufacturer out of business including Nissan. Who would move from the UK and say go to Poland. First she disagreed it would be 10%. I insisted it would be. She said it would still be fine because the quality of life is better here. I was confused. Until I realised she thought if Nissan moved they'd try to take the workers with them and they'd rather stay here than in Poland. I pointed out that Nissan wouldn't do that and didn't need to do that they'd just move the whole factory and all the workers in Sunderland would be jobless. It was her first moment of disquiet in an otherwise breezy 'everything else will be fine' moment. Although after the disquiet she went back to saying she was absolutely sure May would negotiate an economically prosperous Brexit outside of the Single Market and Customs Union. I wonder if she's any closer to seeing what an oxymoron that is now.

But my own lesson on this is to keep on having the discussions, even with ardent Brexiteers. Keep pointing out reality. This little bubble where we can have a General Election that was meant to be a mandate for Brexit but not actually discuss Brexit in detail at all is now over.

Unfortunately the Daily Mirror never got to do the write up, because of the atrocious terrorist act on London Bridge late on Saturday evening dominating the press coverage but I had a fantastic time and learnt a lot about how to be gracious under fire, as Tim was.