Tim Farron: Lib Dems should have pushed harder on fees

Tim Farron Tim Farron spoke to Nick Clegg before he issued his apology over tuition fees

The Lib Dems should have pushed harder to prevent an increase in tuition fees when negotiating the coalition agreement with the Conservatives, party president Tim Farron has said.

Leader Nick Clegg apologised last week for making and breaking a 2010 election pledge not to raise costs.

Mr Farron said this should have been a "red line" issue when it came to reaching a deal with the Tories.

But, overall, he awarded the Lib Dems' negotiating team "nine out of 10".

No political party won an overall Commons majority at the last general election.

During the aftermath of the election, the Lib Dems held talks with the Conservatives and Labour, eventually choosing to set up a coalition with the former.

At a fringe meeting at the Lib Dems' annual conference in Brighton, Mr Farron - who does not hold a ministerial post - praised his party's team of Danny Alexander, David Laws, Andrew Stunell and Jim Wallace, saying: "They did a blinding job."

'Gutsy'

But he suggested they had not done enough to protect the pledge on tuition fees, which "should have been a red line, in my opinion".

After forming the government, the Lib Dem leadership said it would abstain on a parliamentary vote to raise the maximum annual tuition fees in England from £3,200 to £9,000 a year.

However, it eventually backed the Conservatives.

Mr Clegg apologised last week, saying: "There's no easy way to say this: we made a pledge, we didn't stick to it - and for that I am sorry."

Mr Farron revealed that his party leader had "rung me up a week before to say he was doing it.

"I said 'I can't predict what the outcome will be. It's an incredibly gutsy thing to do, but what are we apologising for?'"

Mr Farron said that, had the "red line" over tuition fees been agreed before the talks with the Conservatives, he "would have apologised [to voters] for screwing up the negotiating stage".

Of the agreement, which was reached amid considerable uncertainty about the global economy, he said: "We did it in a rushed way, in three or four days, but that's understandable."

Mr Farron added: "The team deserved nine out of 10 for it, which was pretty, pretty good."

He said the Lib Dems had managed to get "70%" of their manifesto pledges into the coalition agreement.

On Monday, former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown said the party had been "opportunistic" in offering to oppose any increase when it was unlikely the party would win a majority at the election, and was likely to govern in coalition with Labour or the Conservatives, who had different policies.

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