Photo courtesy of Khalil Yousuf, Liberal Democrats.
UK Election 2024

Khalil Yousuf Q&A: ‘In this constituency there are people who are doing full-time jobs and going to the food bank’

Renewables lawyer Khalil Yousuf has a strong chance of winning the seat of Farnham and Bordon for the Liberal Democrats. Photograph courtesy of Khalil Yousuf

The Liberal Democrat candidate for Farnham and Bordon speaks about building trust in the party and not going into coalitions with the Conservatives

Khalil Yousuf has a tough race ahead of him. The 52-year-old is running as a Liberal Democrat in a seat that has been held by the Tories since 1983. 

Born in south London, Yousuf built a career as a renewable energy lawyer and never thought he would become a politician. In 2019, he moved his legal practice, Flexible Lawyers, to Farnham in Surrey. Inspired by their policies on education for children with special needs, he joined the Lib Dems that year and was selected as their 2019 candidate in Crawley, West Sussex, where he gained just 5% of the vote

He’s now standing as the Lib Dem candidate for the newly formed constituency of Farnham and Bordon, in what has been described as a two-horse race against the Conservatives. The latest YouGov poll has him trailing the Tories by six points, but some polls say the race is too close to call, while others call it for the Liberal Democrats. 

Yousuf spoke to Hyphen about his political journey and regaining public trust in the Liberal Democrats.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What motivated you to get into politics?

My parents came to this country from Pakistan in the early 1970s. While we were not at all wealthy — my mum worked in a factory, my father worked in a bakery — over time they progressed. Today, people can’t progress in the way that my parents could. In parts of this constituency, there are people who are doing one or two full-time jobs and going to the food bank. People can’t afford to pay their rent and their mortgages because of the way Liz Truss and her mini-budget have damaged our economy.

What policies drew you to the Lib Dems?

Labour and the Conservatives’ focus on supporting certain groups at the expense of others is incredibly unfair. For instance, there is very little special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) provision at infant or primary school level, and the Labour party will put VAT on school fees, which will disproportionately affect those parents who are having to pay school fees for children because there’s no SEND provision. 

I have spoken with mums who have had to remove their children from school to home school them, with very little support. Others are stuck in lengthy legal appeals, with some waiting two years or more for provisions. 

So there is a great injustice in all of this. And the Liberal Democrats have a much better, much clearer plan which fixes this unfairness. It includes giving local authorities extra funding to reduce the amount that schools pay towards the cost of a child’s education, health and care plan, and establishing a new national body for SEND to fund support for children with very high needs.

Before moving into politics in 2019, you worked as a consulting lawyer for high carbon-emitting companies such as BP and Shell, but are now campaigning for a net zero target by 2045. How do you account for that contradiction?

I’m a renewables lawyer. These big energy companies are some of the largest investors in renewable energy. What we need is the oil and gas companies to invest in Britain — not invest all of their money in other countries. They should definitely be pressed to make sure that we invest in renewables in this country, and we should have a regulatory environment that really pursues that and puts net zero at the heart of our decisions. 

In 2023, sewage spills by water companies into the River Wey and others across the country more than doubled. Beyond proposing to withhold bonuses from Thames Water bosses, how will the Liberal Democrats address this environmental problem? 

The provision of sewage facilities and clean water is a human right. The idea that a company like Thames Water is able to borrow and spend, and issue large amounts of dividends, is totally unacceptable. The Liberal Democrats would make it a public benefit company, not for the benefit of the shareholders or its investors. 

We also need regulatory reform of the Water Services Regulation Authority, which is unfortunately not fulfilling its responsibilities — we’re seeing E coli levels in the River Wey  that are double what they should be. People swim in the river and it has been part of the fabric of this community for a very long time. 

The average voter in your prospective constituency is someone in their early 40s, so how are you appealing to Labour voters who may remember the Lib Dems’ reversal on the tuition fees policy in 2010, and their decision to go into coalition with the Tories that same year?

I think it was a mistake, to be honest with you. The Liberal Democrats were probably in a very difficult position at that time. They did not have a huge amount of control in partnership with the Conservatives. I think it was very unfortunate. I’m very disappointed about that. We will not be going into coalition with the Conservatives again. 

One of the biggest things I encounter on the doorstep is lack of trust in politicians. That is because people feel that politicians are not fulfilling their responsibilities to serve the people. I hope the people look at us and see we’re a party with fresh blood, and we recognise that trust is so important.  

How optimistic are you about winning in a Conservative stronghold?

People are really, really fed up and a lot of them are undecided. Voting for Labour just splits the vote and lets them back in, and many people recognise that.

It’s not just Labour and Green voters that want the Conservatives out. I have met many people who say they have been lifelong Conservatives, who along with their parents have only ever voted Conservative. But they tell me that the Conservative party doesn’t represent the Conservative values it once did. They tell me they are fed up with the infighting and incompetence, often citing Liz Truss’s mini-budget as the reason why they are facing enormous rises in their mortgages, rent, utilities and food prices. For that reason, many have said on camera that they will vote Liberal Democrat in Farnham and Bordon.

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