UK Politics

Tim Farron offers Labour MPs a 'home' in the Liberal Democrats

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Media captionTim Farron: Britain needs a party that is progressive, moderate and liberal

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has urged Labour MPs dismayed by the election of Jeremy Corbyn to join his party.

"I am not a home-wrecker for Labour MPs but I am a home-builder," he told activists at the Lib Dem conference.

He said they would be welcome to join what he claimed was the only "credible" alternative to Conservative rule.

He also made a "full and open offer" to members of all parties, including the Tories, who shared his liberal, democratic values.

"If you are, in your heart, a liberal and a social democrat you have a home in the Liberal Democrats," he said.

Pro-business policy

Mr Farron is using his first conference as Lib Dem leader to make an "unashamed land grab" for Labour votes, following Labour's election of left-winger Mr Corbyn as its party leader.

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Image caption Sir Vince Cable said Jeremy Corbyn's economics made 'no sense'

Speaking on the Andrew Marr show , he said: "You can't defend the NHS and have decent schools and police services if your economy isn't growing properly. That's a position which Jeremy Corbyn and co have chosen to vacate."

The Lib Dems are aiming to stress the party's pro-business credentials.

Mr Farron announced the party's new policy of a Start Up Allowance for new business owners of £100 per week for the first 26 weeks - to be paid for by reversing cuts to corporation tax announced by Chancellor George Osborne in the Budget.

Those who create businesses should be "celebrated and supported", Mr Farron said.

"Liberal Democrats believe that if you have a dream you should be supported to fulfil it," he added.

'Honest' Corbyn

In response to reports that the former Liberal Democrat MP, Baroness Tonge, had indicated she might join Labour, Mr Farron pointed out that she sat as an independent in the House of Lords.

"She's not ours to start off with," he said.

Baroness Tonge, a former Lib Dem MP who sits as an independent in the Lords, told The Sunday Times that Mr Corbyn offered an "honest" brand of politics and she agreed with his stance on nuclear disarmament and the Middle East.

Mr Farron refused to confirm how many Labour MPs he had spoken to about possible defections, but said it was "more than two".

He has not ruled out working with Mr Corbyn after the 2020 general election, to keep the Conservatives out of power.

Lib Dem grandee Baroness Williams told Radio 4's World this Weekend there was now a large space in the middle of British politics for the Lib Dems to work with Mr Corbyn's Labour party.

Tribalism was "the rotting corruption of British politics", she said, suggesting the two parties could find agreement on issues such as housing, the NHS, prisons, and the Human Rights Act.

The party should "sit down and talk to Labour spokesmen or women about certain issues and consider with them how we could co-operate".

"For example, putting down amendments in the name of both parties, having speakers from both parties, above all campaigning to change certain things that need changing," she added.

'Our moment'

But Sir Vince Cable said working with Labour would be "inconceivable" because Mr Corbyn's economic policies made "absolutely no sense and have no credibility at all".

The former business secretary, who lost his seat in May, told BBC Radio 5 live's Pienaar's Politics the Lib Dems "could get Labour people joining us".

But he said it would not happen straight away and it was more likely that his party would collaborate with "moderate" Labour MPs.

He did not rule out the eventual formation of a new party in the centre ground, saying it was "conceivable... that that is where you could end up".

On Saturday evening, Mr Farron told a packed hall of supporters at the start of the party' conference: "This is our moment."

He said Labour had "left the playing field" and it was up to the Lib Dems to fill the gap and take on the Tories.

The theme of the conference, summed up in a Twitter hashtag, is #LibDemFightback.

The party claims it has attracted record numbers of activists to its annual conference, including many of the 20,000 people who have joined since the election.

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