Tim talks to a room of students – and energises the #LibDemFightback in Newcastle

Students at NUSU Tim Talks

Of all the drops in the Liberal Democrat vote in May, the drop in the 18-24 vote was harshest. From 30% of the total vote of this age group in 2010, our vote collapsed to just 5% in May. Hope springs eternal in Newcastle, though – and we were delighted to welcome our leader, Tim Farron, in hosting a ‘Talk to Tim’ event at the Newcastle University Students’ Union on Monday night. Tim was in fine form, answering questions from the packed room of well over 100 students on issues ranging from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to fracking and from the government’s proposed Teaching Excellence Framework for Higher Education to just what, exactly, is the point of the Liberal Democrats.

The questions were reasoned, varied and detailed. If this event was any indication, if we listen to young people and show that we genuinely care about what they have to say, we will win their respect and, in time, win back their support.

Tim Farron's q and a at Newcastle UniOn the point of the Liberal Democrats, Tim was clear – the last eight months have served as ample demonstration, both to young people and to the wider population, of the value of having a strong Liberal party in British politics. Cuts to maintenance grants for poorer students would not have happened if the Liberal Democrats were in government to restrain the Tories from acting on their worst tendencies. Tim made clear that the Liberal Democrats will puff out our chests, punch above the weight of our mere eight MPs, and take for ourselves the political space vacated by a Labour Opposition talking to itself about itself, not to the country, at a time when this Tory government needs an effective opposition.

He was pithy and self-aware with it – an approach which certainly won the approval of the room. The question on tuition fees was inevitable, but at least came first, and was dealt with by Tim with characteristic honesty and candour. It was about trust, Tim said – the policy we delivered in government was marginally less terrible than the one it replaced, but that made not a jot of difference to the reputational hit the breaking of that very publicly made pledge not to raise fees did. As Tim told the room, reputations in politics take years to build and seconds to destroy – we are fortunate to have a leader who gets just why young people abandoned us in their droves at the last general election, and who gets that the only way to rebuild our shattered reputation amongst this constituency is to connect with them, one by one, and show that their concerns are our concerns.

Tim has frequently said that if the Liberal Democrats did not exist, it would be necessary to invent us – and on last night’s showing, there are many young people out there who will be willing to listen to what we have to say. Let’s do as Tim says, assume the right to take the space Labour doesn’t want, and rebuild our reputation amongst young people as a progressive party which cares about them.