POLITICS

Liberal Democrats Conference: Election Fightback As Party President Slams Conservatives

14/09/2013 18:44 BST | Updated 14/09/2013 18:46 BST

The Lib Dems launched their election fightback as they criticised the Conservative Party for its inconsistency and suggested its flagship housing policy could provoke a new housing bubble.

Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron said that under his watch he would make sure the party fights Tory vested interests, which refuse to accept that the economy will not grow until a fairer society is established.

Addressing members at the Lib Dem autumn party conference, he said: "Lib Dems called it right in May 2010 - we see the evidence slowly emerging of a stronger economy, with higher growth and lower unemployment.

"But only the complacent would think that we're out of the woods. And there's some who seem content to steer us straight back into those woods. We still face the danger of a re-inflating housing market, unsustainable growth fed by cheap credit and real growth thwarted for want of skills."

Mr Farron's comments appeared to be a criticism of the Government's measures to boost the housing market.

The £12 billion mortgage support scheme Help to Buy, unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne in his March Budget, will enable first-time buyers to get on the housing ladder with just a 5% deposit, underwritten by a government guarantee. However, there has been criticism that the initiative could bring the housing market crashing down, after a high take up of the scheme was reported, resulting in a housing subsidy estimated to be worth £1.3 billion in the last four months.

Mr Farron said: "The economic recovery can only be guaranteed if it's built on firm foundations. Now I'm not easily impressed, but this phrase behind us is spot on. Because one leads from the other. We will never have a strong economy if it is not underpinned by a fair society.

"The Tories refuse to understand that - because they exist to promote the interests of the richest inhabitants of the square mile of the city of London."

The Prime Minister and Labour were also criticised, with Mr Farron saying David Cameron was inconsistent about the value of unity, while Labour appeared to have no policies at all, preferring instead to hide "behind the sofa".

"The positions of the parties are clear. Lib Dems backing Britain in Europe; UKIP hankering after Empire; The Tories hankering after UKIP; Labour hiding behind the sofa. And David Cameron, call me soft, but am I the only Lib Dem who just wants him just to be a bit better? If he wants to be a statesman, a bit of consistency would be great. But he gets the train to Edinburgh to say better together and the train to Brussels to say better apart. Well we say better together in both," he said.

Setting out the Lib Dem election argument why they deserve to be the party of government, Mr Farron said they should look to the legacy left by William Beveridge in creating a fairer society.

He said the Liberal Party MP recognised the problems that society needed to overcome: squalor, idleness, want, ignorance and disease.

nick clegg
Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg has faced criticism from within his own party

"And then he named the solutions," said Mr Farron. "Decent homes, full employment, welfare, state schools and the NHS. A consensus that put human dignity first. A consensus that government must never wash its hands when it could roll up its sleeves. A consensus that made Britain both great and decent."

Again, attacking the other two main parties, he said: "A consensus that was broken by Thatcherism and buried by New Labour. And then profit mattered more than people, can-do ambition replaced by don't care laissez faire, an economy built on short term greed. It was bound to end in tears, and it did.

"It is hard to believe that it's only five years since the global financial crash. At Labour's conference they'll blame it on the international markets; At the Tory conference they'll blame it on the last Labour Government. And they'll both be right."

Repeating the Lib Dem's election message, he said: "There is no stronger economy if there is no fairer society."

He said the party's raison d'etre was "to promote the interests of people living along every mile. Every 50-year-old out of work fearing for their future, every school leaver determined to build a career, every family desperate for a home."

Mr Farron continued his impassioned speech, saying he would not allow Tory policy to become Lib Dem policy.

"On my watch we will not join the intolerant anti-immigration rhetoric of our opponents. Let the others preach the politics of division while they follow their focus groups, we will do what is right."

He also vowed to put climate change back at the top of the agenda, saying "nothing compared to the existential threat of climate change".

He said: "Our economy, security, all of our hopes and dreams rest on whether we will choose together to fight climate change and whether we will win that fight."

Mr Farron promised not to compromise on key Lib Dem issues, saying they would make the party's manifesto regardless of the opinion of other parties.

"So we could tippex out of our manifesto the things that we think other parties won't like. Like decarbonisation targets, higher taxes for the rich, a sane policy on nuclear weapons. Well not while I'm president. If we end up in coalition negotiations, that's when we compromise. We do not compromise when we write our manifesto. We negotiate on our terms, from our strongest position and not from a halfway house."

He said the idea of liberals going back to their constituencies and preparing for government was "no longer such an unlikely idea".

He added: "You know that we could get 25% of the vote and be out of power or 12% and be in power.

"As President I will not have us aiming to achieve something that we can barely affect. I only know of one way to make a difference and to change lives and that's to win elections. Bucking the trend seat by seat.

"We're only going to succeed if we remember that community politics is both the way that we win, and what we are for. I will not let our experience of government intoxicate us and tame us. I will not let us forget that we are the party immersed in our communities not imprisoned by Westminster."

Closing his speech, he said: "We owe it to ourselves and to our country to revive his (Beveridge's) legacy, to extend his legacy, to have the audacity to go over the heads of the other two parties to the people in our country and stake out a new consensus that says that Britain can be prosperous, can be innovative, can be successful and Britain can be generous, decent and fair.

"Not more of the same, but a movement for change - a new consensus. That is our vision, my ambition, the Liberal Democrat mission. If you want to know who we are - this is who we are; if you want to know what we are for - this is what we are for; if you want a reason to give us your vote - this is that reason. Come and join us."