Tim Farron Again Plays Down 'Early Divorce' Comments And Leadership Rumours
Tim Farron has attempted to laugh off the controversy surrounding his claim in a speech to the Liberal Democrat party conference that the coalition could face "divorce" before 2015.
"The truth is that divorce isn't a very good way to talk about the coalition," Farron admitted at a conference fringe event on Tuesday. "I have to confess how these things work sometimes. Occasionally when I'm writing a speech I'm trying to write things that I suppose will make a point. Sometimes I make myself laugh and I'm determined to tell a joke."
Speaking in an interview with Channel 4's Gary Gibbons to be broadcast on Tuesday, a seemingly-chastened Farron said that he believed there was more chance of the coalition holding together than most single-party governments.
"But the reality is that it's a business partnership rather than a marriage," he said, adding that he had just been using shorthand for the exact period of three years and eight months until the election in May 2015.
Farron also took pains to stress the LibDem's differences with the Tories, as he did in his speech on Sunday.
Any notion of a long-term, ideological relationship with the Tories was "utter pants", he said. He also described the "brutal and appalling" Thatcher years and said it was one of the reasons he joined the Liberal party in 1986.
On the speculation that he harbours ambitions to take over as LibDem leader, or even oust Nick Clegg before the next election, Farron repeated said that there was no chance of a leadership battle.
"[Clegg] is doing an absolutely outstanding job," he said, to applause from the LibDems in attendance.
"I never thought for one second that we would ever end up in power, not really. In your heart of hearts you said I'm not sure if we'll ever make it. I wanted us to, but it was not a good career move.... Now we're in we have to do our best to support him," he said.
Explaining that his own rise to party president had always been opportunistic rather than pre-planned, Farron added that "if [Clegg] wanted to go I'd blinking nail his feet to the floor".
On tuition fees, Farron again went further than his colleagues in government to lament the loss of trust among the electorate.
"It's the trust that has killed us," Farron said. He added that "trust is hard won and easily lost" and said that he hoped the party could look for a different solution.
"We could have kept our pledge very easily by scrapping fees and replacing them with a graduate tax which is very similar to what we've got now," he said. "And I hope we can go back to that."
Farron also attempted to play down claims of a latent and growing divide within the party between the 'orange book' economic liberals, among them David Laws and Jeremy Browne, and those who felt closer to the legacy of Social Democrats and were more resistant to public spending cuts.
"We're all social liberals, and we're all economic liberals. Some people have different views, but if you look at that book - I do remember Steve Webb wrote in it and he's not an 'orange booker' but he is an orange booker because he wrote an essay in the orange book," Farron said.