Tim Farron: 'I need counselling to cope with coalition...'

But things would have been grim without it, says the Lib Dem president

With evidence of the negative impact of George Osborne's Autumn Statement mounting, Tim Farron, the perpetually cheery Lib Dem president, refuses to put a positive glow on it. "I'm not going to bluster and say the statement was a huge step forward in terms of equality and fairness. At a time of austerity it is very hard to demonstrate the sunny uplands, but it's not half as grim as it would have been without us."

This is becoming a theme of the Lib Dem attack. The influence of "a bunch of liberal radicals" over the Treasury can be seen, he says, in the £5.30 state pension increase, progress towards lifting anyone earning £10,000 or less out of tax, blocking the scrapping of inheritance tax or the 50p tax band for high earners, and ditching the council tax discount for second-home owners.

Mr Farron admits he "took some convincing" to sign up to the Osborne cuts programme. "My instincts are undiluted Keynesian," says the 41-year-old, who jokes the one thing he has in common with Tory ministers is that they both joined their respective parties because of Margaret Thatcher. But he insists decisions taken by the coalition have ensured stability and low interest rates: "There's nothing progressive about families having their homes repossessed."

Even so, he is "sympathetic to people in the public sector who feel they are being used as political pawns", after last week's strike. Right-wing politicians and union leaders are "looking for confrontation" and "trading macho insults" but must not "resort to 1980s-style slanging matches", he says.

At Prime Minister's Questions last week, David Cameron twice branded Ed Miliband pejoratively as "left-wing", a line that Mr Farron says was "unfortunate and unnecessary". "What we need at a time like this is the binding of wounds, not the deepening of them."

As the voice of the Lib Dem grassroots, Mr Farron has freedom to speak out in a way that the party's ministers cannot. He admits that coalition can "compromise" a party's brand and sets out the key themes for a forthcoming Lib Dem fightback. "It's about being fair, progressive, compassionate. It's about putting freedom and the ability to make choices about your own life at the heart of everything... understanding the biggest bar to anybody's freedom is poverty. So our concept of freedom is very different from that of the Conservatives."

He claims that since the late 1970s, the Tories – and later New Labour – have bought into a culture of "greed being institutionalised, lionised, glorified and treated as a virtue". "We keep hearing things cloaked as an apology from Labour for things I'm not sure they need to say sorry for. What they do need to say sorry for is behaving like a bunch of Tories. They'll talk about things like 'we didn't listen enough'. It's like cheating on your wife and then apologising for being home late."

Tim Farron's straight-talking charm and joke-packed speeches have made him the darling of the party faithful, and he is often tipped as a future leader. "My preference is that we make such a success of all this and Nick remains leader for so long that by the time a vacancy occurs I'm too decrepit to be taken seriously."

Last Thursday while the House of Commons debated BBC cuts, Mr Farron was in his Lake District constituency, putting himself in the path of "regular folks" unhappy at what the coalition is doing. "There are people who like the idea of coalition in abstract but, in practice, how could we possibly go in with the Tories? My reaction is generally that I need daily counselling to cope with it."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?