Tim Farron says he treated the Young Liberals with ‘respect’ as he faces calls to apologise for calling their housing policy ‘Thatcherite’

Left Foot Forward interviewed the former Liberal Democrat leader about his controversial speech

Tim Farron speaking at a Green Alliance fringe at Liberal Democrat conference

The former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has said he treated the Young Liberals with ‘respect’ following a debate in which he called their position on housing ‘Thatcherite’ and ‘the most right wing thing I’ve seen at party conference since we set Liz Truss off to go and work undercover’. His comments came in a fractious debate on the party’s position on housebuilding at the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth. He has was booed by conference attendees at the time and has since faced calls from party members to apologise.

Speaking to Left Foot Forward at the Liberal Democrat conference, Farron said: “I thought I treated the Young Liberals with respect because I think I didn’t patronise them and pat them on the head, I treated them like – on this particular issue – worthy and utterly respectable adversaries. And so I told them straight from my perspective about what happens if you have a housing target without being clear what’s going to populate it.”

However, Farron conceded that the policy he branded ‘Thatcherite’ hours earlier will now likely form part of the Liberal Democrats manifesto at the next election. He told Left Foot Forward: “Having said that, they won the argument. And you’re not going to find another party where the youth wing is going to win very comfortably in the conference hall and to win the argument and win the vote. And there’s no doubt in my mind – that’s two times running they’ve won this, two years ago and today. There is almost no chance of that not being in the manifesto now.”

Left Foot Forward also asked Farron what he made of the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesperson in the House of Lords, Baroness Ludford, telling a fringe meeting at the conference that “the leadership has got this wrong” about the party’s position on Europe. Her comments came amidst a simmering disquiet amongst the membership about Ed Davey, the current Lib Dem leader, not taking what they deem a sufficiently pro-European position and failing to articulate the case for rejoining the EU.

Farron told Left Foot Forward that Davey is “completely right” on where he is currently positioning the party. He said: “I think Ed [Davey]’s completely right. There’s not a single person here that doesn’t think we should have stayed in the European Union and who doesn’t think we should get there at some point. I think we’ve got to be realistic about how we do it. The reality is that we’re trying to tackle the issues that concern the country at the moment, you’ve got to take people with you.”

Left Foot Forward spoke to Farron after he addressed a reception at the Lib Dem Conference hosted by the environmental think tank Green Alliance. At the event, he talked up the Liberal Democrats’ commitments on the environmental and climate crises, saying the party “will not play the culture war on the environment”.

After slamming Rishi Sunak’s recent suite of U-turns one environmental policies, Farron went on to accuse the Labour Party of being ‘timid’ on environmental issues in the aftermath of the Uxbridge by-election. He also argued that both parties were being “reactionary on climate change, on air quality and on biodiversity”.

In his remarks, Farron also claimed that the Liberal Democrats “were the green party before there was a Green Party”, and speaking to Left Foot Forward, he accused the Greens of being ‘NIMBYs’. Asked why voters should back the Lib Dems rather than the Green Party on the environment, he said: “First of all, we don’t do things like oppose HS2 and oppose the kind of things that are vital,” adding, “A lesson we’ve learnt over time is to be more pragmatic about nuclear and to recognise that the climate threat means that we’ve got to be more than just NIMBYs.”

Chris Jarvis is head of strategy and development at Left Foot Forward

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