George Osborne is putting off "green" development because he is trying to appeal to the "Jeremy Clarkson tendency", the president of the Liberal Democrats said yesterday.
Tim Farron publicly voiced the frustrations expressed privately by senior Liberal Democrat ministers that Mr Osborne is blocking clean energy initiatives that could replace ageing coal-fired power stations.
Speaking at a fringe meeting of the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, organised by The Independent in association with Royal & Sun Alliance, Mr Farron accused the Chancellor of sending "mixed messages" to businesses looking to invest in the UK and called for more radical policies to promote growth.
"Talk to Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, and he will say companies are backing off from big green projects because they are getting mixed messages," said Mr Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale. "George Osborne is trying to appeal to the Jeremy Clarkson tendency."
He suggested this was evidence that David Cameron's drive to "detoxify" the Conservative brand had gone into reverse. "The rhetoric of the past three or four months has illustrated to me that the Cameron project has crashed into the ground," he said.
Mr Farron criticised his party's leadership for not backing its pledge to freeze university tuition fees, which he said the Liberal Democrats "should have kept".
But he welcomed Mr Clegg's apology for failing to keep his word. "[It] came from Nick's heart," Mr Farron said. "There wasn't a team of advisers sitting around saying you have to do this. It was a brave and bold thing to do."
Mr Farron said the Liberal Democrat leader decided on the high-risk move after realising following public meetings over the summer that the issue hung like a "shroud of shame" over the party.
He also said the party's top team should have "fought much harder" during the negotiations about the formation of the Coalition.
"I should have been a red line … The team deserve nine out of 10 for [the Coalition agreement] but there were some clear issues left hanging – fees being the No 1."