Here is the full text of Tim Farron’s speech last night on combating post-Brexit racism, which he delivered at Queen Mary University at an event organised with The Runnymede Trust:
Patriotism has too often been seen as the preserve of the right. And I resent that. I’m a patriot. I love my country, but not to the exclusion of others. That’s the difference between a patriot and a nationalist.
I want others to look at Britain as a beacon of hope, independent spirited, community minded, strong, maybe stubborn, but decent and compassionate.
And so, the rise in racist and xenophobic attacks following the referendum, fills me with shame. Those attacks are heartbreaking, they make me fear that my country has been stolen from me, because this is not the Britain I know, the Britain I love, because the Britain I know and love is better than that.
We all knew that the rhetoric of Farage and the Leave campaign could lead to a rise in intolerance.
In the referendum campaign this culminated in the horrific assassination of Jo Cox, a hardworking and dedicated MP whose commitment to openness and tolerance made her a target.
Maybe, that campaign revealed a level of simmering intolerance and hatred… but maybe the very tone of the campaign generated new divisions, new fault lines
Since the Brexit vote, this sort of venomous hate and closed mindedness has gained ground, we have seen shocking attacks, such as on the Polish community centre just down the road in West London, or the woman who lost her baby after a racially aggravated attack.
In the face of all that we now need to pull together not apart. In the words of Jo Cox, words that have been memorialized – we must remember that we have “more in common than that which divides us.”
We must be clear that the outcome of the referendum was not a green light to xenophobia.
We are a diverse society, rich in our varied culture, evolving in our culture as we have done for centuries.
Britain did not become Great Britain on fear, isolation and division. Britain did not become Great Britain through short-termist politicians who put the needs of one part of society above the rest.
One of the quirks of Britishness, that sometimes gets us gently mocked by our friends, is that we get squeamish about taking things too seriously. Politically, that makes us averse to extremism and the kind of hate-filled, short termist demagoguery that has plagued others.
We’re a country founded on over 2,000 years of immigration, each wave bringing new influences and culture, enriching British life.
Yet, the party leading our beautiful country….the party that should be celebrating our wonderful diversity wants to destroy the very fabric it is made of.
2016 has seen the Conservative Party make move after move that makes Britain a nastier, more divided and more resentful country. 2016 has been a year that has seen the end of David Cameron’s naïve but well intentioned attempts to detoxify the Conservative Party go up in flames.
This spring saw Zac Goldsmith’s disgraceful, racist London Mayoral campaign. Rather than celebrating the fact that the son of a billionaire could go head to head with the son of a bus driver in an equal competition based on the merits of each of their politics not their background, Zac chose to concentrate on Sadiq’s Muslim faith and Pakistani roots. For that he was rightly punished in the polls.
We then saw a European campaign headed by the man who is now our foreign secretary, based on fear and terror, pitching community against community. The disgraceful ‘breaking point’ poster, demonising desperate refugees, only one example of a campaign that sought to ‘take back control’ by forfeiting our nation’s decency.
And this Autumn saw Theresa May’s Government propose new rules that would force companies to record how many foreign workers they employed. A plan that even UKIP found distasteful.
It’s not where we come from that matters, it’s where we’re going.
The Conservatives are risking just that with their reckless obsession with overall migration numbers, instead of standing up for what’s best for Britain.
These are the actions of a Nasty Party, willing to play on prejudice for their own short-term gain. Some people used to tolerate the Tories being nasty on the assumption that at least they were competent. I am not sure what would now attract people to vote for today’s Tory party that seems to be both unpleasant and useless. Remember, the first impression that most international leaders, businesses and observers have of our country is either Boris Johnson or Liam Fox…
Well Theresa May once to her credit criticised the Tory Party for being the nasty party, but today, to her shame, she leads it as it gets nastier.
I dread to think what’s in store this winter – but rest assured the Liberal Democrats will keep fighting against his dangerous and divisive world view.
While 2016 has been a truly shocking year for racial equality and diversity in Britain, I am proud of the steps my party has been taking to ensure we get better at representing the communities we seek to serve.
In the Spring we became the first political party to integrate all disabled shortlists and specifically set aside spaces on target seat selections for people from other underrepresented groups.
In the Autumn, we went further and passed a Conference motion that reserves spaces for under-represented groups in our party committees – and also passed a Combating Racism motion
And today, I am pleased to announce that the Liberal Democrats will be conducting an independent review which focuses on the issues and barriers faced by BAME members in the party – with work commencing immediately this week.
The party’s President, Sal Brinton has been integral to getting this process started, and I am pleased to say that Lord John Alderdice from our Alliance sister party in Northern Ireland has agreed to carry out this review.
John has recently been in Canada, undertaking a review in the Yukon on relationships between the Canadian and regional governments and their BAME and indigenous communities and expects to report back next year.
As you can see from what the party has achieved this year, the Liberal Democrats are serious about combating inequality.
Whether it’s in our party structures.
Or in communities up and down the country.
One of Britain’s great strengths is its mix of cultures, and despite the referendum result, an increasingly right-wing
Conservative government or an ineffective Labour Party too busy fighting its own internal battles – the Liberal Democrats are united in fighting to ensure that all citizens are made to feel safe.
And it’s not just the visible discrimination, like hate crime, that needs challenging.
Sometimes it’s the invisible discrimination that has an even worse impact on lives.
That’s why we’re calling for widespread name-blank application forms, mandatory reporting on the BAME pay gap, and an overhaul of the governments Prevent strategy so that instead of singling out specific communities and treating everyone as suspect the millions of funding that this project receives will instead be channeled into more community policing and projects run by grass-roots activists. While all parties agree that Prevent needs to be reformed, only the Liberal Democrats have the courage to say that the brand has become too toxic and only scrapping it will do.
Education also sits right at the heart of what Liberal Democrats stand for. It is the key to freedom and opportunity.
Yet – our governments have designed an education system – especially at primary school level – that is focused not on developing young people for later life, for work or for further study, but on getting them through the wrong kinds of tests.
So – while our curriculum has got better at teaching black history there is still room for improvement.
That’s why the Liberal Democrats are proposing an Education Charter that leads to a love of learning and a breadth of learning; that is relevant to what children will need next at school and in their future as adults. Not just for exams.
With less focus on meeting targets and passing exams, the Liberal Democrats would implement a curriculum that is focused on giving children creativity and confidence.
Learning about more about black and ethnic minority historical figures should be part of this, and would help empower children of communities who don’t see enough historical achievement from people who look like them, giving them the inspiration to strive themselves.
Talking of history, one group of people who I am sure will be on the wrong side of it are those who are doing nothing for Syrian refugees.
Current hostility towards child migrants, especially in sections of the media, will be seen in the future as embarrassingly small-minded.
Blindness to discrimination is good people doing nothing; standing up to racism and unequal racial outcomes is being on the right side of history.
And as we stand on the edge of those two horrific historic realities: Brexit and a Tory stranglehold on Britain, the biggest risk is that you do not join us.
So let’s be absolutely certain of this reality.
The only movement with the desire and the potential to stop the calamity of Brexit and the tragedy of a generation of Conservative majority rule, is this movement, is the Liberal Democrats.
So, you can despair if you want and accept the inevitability of a Tory government for the next quarter of a century.
Or you can recognise that the Liberal Democrats can prevent that inevitability.
We are the real voice of opposition to the Conservative Brexit Government and the only party fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.
Britain is one of the most diverse, sophisticated and innovative nation in the world and, in or out, we need to stay that way.
And we Liberal Democrats will do whatever we can, in Parliament and outside.
To reshape the way the nation works….to bring it back together.
To stay civilised.
To stay united.
To combat racism.
Because, wherever you were born.
Whatever the colour of your skin
No campaign of lies, hate and fear will make you a target in the Liberal Democrats.
* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. As part of the Liberal Democrat Voice team he helps with photos and moderation on the site, as well as occsionally contributing articles. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.