UK Politics

Lib Dems should have died in a ditch over tuition fees - Farron

Tim Farron

The Lib Dems should have "died in a ditch" to keep their pledge to axe university tuition fees, Tim Farron has said - to applause from activists.

The Lib Dem president said the party's coalition negotiators failed to grasp how important the issue was to voters.

And they should have made it one of the prices of forming a government with the Tories in 2010.

He also suggested the party was being too negative in its approach to next year's general election.

Speaking at a Times fringe meeting at the Lib Dem conference, Mr Farron said the Lib Dems needed to fight an "audacious" campaign - to differentiate them from the dry, "managerial" politics of Labour and the Conservatives.

'Blooming good'

"We should act as if we are on 35 or 40% [in the polls] and we are bidding to be in government on our own," he said, urging bolder policies on building new infrastructure and homes.

He suggested it was not enough just to attack the Conservatives and Labour or present the party as a moderating force on the two larger parties.

He said the party also needed to be better prepared for a hung parliament - and more tuned in to what voters expected their "red lines" to be if they entered coalition talks with the Conservatives or Labour.

"The massive mistake we made on tuition fees was not understanding what the electorate thought we should have died in a ditch for - and we should have died in a ditch over tuition fees, frankly."

He added: "You live and learn and I would give the negotiating team last time 8 of 10, which is pretty blooming good first time out."

'Shallow'

He rejected calls for a looser "confidence and supply" arrangement if there is a hung Parliament next year, saying it had to be a full coalition - either with the Conservatives or Labour - or nothing.

He refused to be drawn on whether he would bid to be party leader after the next election, saying "shame on you" to anyone in the party who indulged in that sort of speculation.

Lib Dem Health Minister Norman Lamb warned on Sunday that a deal with Labour which put Ed Miliband in Downing Street could do "serious damage" to the party because he was not prime ministerial enough.

Asked about this, Mr Farron said: "I would rather we didn't personalise the general election campaign."

He said Labour "undoubtedly" had a problem in "the sense that people can't place Ed Miliband in their minds behind the door of Number 10 Downing Street" but it was "a bit shallow to concentrate on that kind of thing".

He then went on to say Mr Miliband was "unfairly" compared with Neil Kinnock, who lost two general elections as Labour leader, because at least Mr Kinnock had the courage to take on his party.

"Maybe he [Kinnock] was unelectable but he made the Labour Party electable," added Mr Farron.

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