By Sudhir Choudhrie
SINCE becoming the Liberal Democrats’ adviser on India last year, I have had the pleasure of monthly meetings with the party’s leader, Tim Farron.
As a long-term supporter of the party, I was, I confess, slightly apprehensive in 2015, after such a significant electoral defeat and the loss of Nick Clegg.
But incoming leader Tim Farron’s passion, ambition and easy manner quickly won me round.
In our meetings I have been consistently impressed by Farron’s determination to lead his party back to strength, by his strong sense of decency as a politician and by his commitment to and appreciation of our community.
This week, however, I met Farron to interview him for Eastern Eye.
What first brought you into politics?
I grew up under the last Conservative government elected with a big majority. I saw the devastation Margaret Thatcher brought to my community in Preston, the unemployment, the ideologically motivated cuts to public services and the deep divisions in our society. I felt
passionate about issues like homelessness, the environment and I found in the Liberal Democrats a party that shared these concerns.
How do you feel about the party’s current position? Can the Lib Dems still make an impact?
The 2015 election was undoubtedly a blow, but it was also a new beginning.
The EU referendum and the vacuum left by Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has given us an opportunity to play an important role, opposing Brexit and campaigning for more investment in health and social care.
Since the last election, our membership has nearly tripled, so we must be doing something right.
What are your priorities going into this election?
We are campaigning against the inevitability of a hard Brexit, which is the product of Tory headbangers and a wish to kill off UKIP. A hard Brexit wasn’t on the ballot paper in last year’s referendum and, while it might suit the electoral interests of the Conservative Party, it is in no way the best outcome for Britain.
We will fight to keep Britain in the single market while giving the public a final say by promising a second referendum on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.
Why should British Asians vote Lib Dem?
Most British Asians I know share our values: they are open hearted, open minded, forward thinking and intrinsically internationalist.
Many are worried by the fact that a complacent Labour Party has left many towns and cities behind, which has led to voters feeling neglected and voting UKIP.
This UKIP vote has clearly now transferred to a right wing, hard Brexit Conservative party, that is helping fan the flames of UKIP’s divisiveness and intolerance.
Many British Asians are also realising that by taking us out of the single market the Conservatives have lost the right to call themselves the party of business.
That’s why I want the Liberal Democrats to replace Labour as the main opposition party. Our local campaigning record and unashamedly pro-European, open and united attitude means the kind of rhetoric the Labour Party has enabled the Conservatives to take on would have never happened if we were in opposition. Only by voting for the Lib Dems this time can you be certain that the government’s divisive agenda will be properly held to account.
I couldn’t persuade Farron to give me his own private prediction for how many seats the party will win next month, but he seemed confident that, buoyed by the efforts of new activists and a cause that has rallied people to his party once again, the Lib Dems are on the up and will be a far stronger force in years to come. I am sure he is right.
Sudhir Choudhrie is a London-based entrepreneur and winner of the Asian Business Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013