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Tim Farron: I want to park Lib Dem tanks on the Tories’ lawn

September 15, 2016 11:06 AM
By Joe Murphy and Nicholas Cecil in The Evening Standard

Tim Farron launched an audacious raid on Jeremy Corbyn's divided party today by pledging to give Labour defectors roles in a "plausible alternative" to the Conservatives.

In an exclusive interview ahead of the Liberal Democrats Conference, he aimed to encourage former shadow cabinet ministers to jump ship by saying they could hold Theresa May to account more effectively in his party.

"It's not for me to go out and be a home-wrecker but perhaps to create a home for people who are liberals, progressives, who think winning elections is not a dirty business but is about making sure the Tories do not have a majority for, potentially, the next quarter of a century," he said.

His offer is timed to appeal to dozens of moderate Labour MPs facing the threat of deselection in the wake of boundary changes. He told the Standard he was aware of Labour MPs who were disenchanted because Mr Corbyn's "shambolic" leadership was letting the Conservatives off the hook.

"I don't want to park my tanks on Labour's lawn," he said. "I want to park my tanks on the Tory lawn, which is where Labour's tanks ought to be." Mr Farron even hinted that Labour defectors would be allowed to stand in the next election under Lib-Dem colours, aiming to tempt those facing deselection. "We'd want those people to be very much part of our future," he said.

He virtually ruled out ever going into a coalition with Mr Corbyn, saying: "Could I see myself doing it? I can't."

Mr Farron accused Labour's leadership of being "more content with feeling good about themselves than doing good", adding: "I think there is nothing grubby about winning elections."

A year after he took over from Nick Clegg as leader of a party reduced to just eight MPs, Mr Farron claimed the Lib-Dems had recovered their "winning ways" after their "best local government results for eight years" and a rise in membership.

He revealed the Brighton conference will open this Saturday under the theme of an "open, tolerant, united Britain".

The leader unveiled a policy announcement calculated to hearten activists - an extra £60 million for local authorities to tackle the "outrage" of homelessness in London and other big cities.

But the keynote conference pledge, he believes, will be to halt Brexit by holding a second EU referendum in two years. Voters and business leaders, he argues, will increasingly feel that leaving the EU is a "calamitous situation that our children will pay for".

He added: "I imagine Theresa May would bow to that kind of pressure."

Mr Farron has known the Prime Minister longer than most. As a 21-year-old student, he stood against her during the 1992 election in the Labour stronghold of Durham North-West. "I found her sharply dressed, polite and a competent debater," he said. "She played the game of the Tory parachuted into the unwinnable seat. We both got annihilated, me slightly more than her."

He thinks May has a "basic decency" and keeps her word but suffers David Cameron's flaw of "short-termism".

Scathingly, he said her "fence-sitting" in the EU campaign made even the low-profile Mr Corbyn "look like an absolute trouper". He added: "If you are a leader, you stake out a position and you fight for it. You don't just see which way the wind is going."

Sometimes Mr Farron's strident positions sound jejune, however. Defending his opposition to the so-called Snooper's Charter, he said "a pair of eyes, time and shoe leather" provides better intelligence than computers.

Confirming his opposition to a third runway, he said that if Zac Goldsmith resigns his Richmond Park seat in protest at a go-ahead, the vote would turn into "a referendum on Heathrow". Mr Goldsmith, he said, would be punished in any by-election for backing Brexit.