Lib Dem conference: Farron zeros in on housing, refugee crisis

Britain's Liberal Democrat party leader, Tim Farron © Peter Nicholls
Newly elected Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron made an impassioned appeal at the party’s conference to try and solve Britain’s housing shortage, while also attacking Prime Minister David Cameron’s response to the ongoing refugee crisis.

“Housing is the biggest single issue that politicians don’t talk about,” said Farron in his first party conference address. “Well, we are going to talk about it, campaign on it, go on and on and on about it, and make a difference to the millions who have been ignored.”

Farron outlined some key points of the Lib Dem’s strategy for resolving the housing shortage. He said he will instruct Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords to block Cameron's right-to-buy scheme, a controversial plan which allows tenants to purchase property from housing associations. The Lib Dems also support lifting the borrowing cap on local authorities – a move that could result in more than 80,000 homes in the next five years.

“Communities up and down this country have spent 25 years building housing association homes, picking up the pieces of Mrs Thatcher’s destruction of council housing, and we will not allow David Cameron to destroy that work too,” he said.

Farron had no shortage of harsh words for the government’s handling of the refugee crisis, calling Cameron’s response “pitiful” and “embarrassing.” Farron accused Cameron of “turning his back on the needy” and exploiting the crisis for political gain without taking meaningful steps to improve the situation.

“What we have from David Cameron is the careful calibration of what it takes to manage that story,” he said. “The minimum effort for maximum headlines and a policy which will not directly help a single one of the hundreds of thousands currently on the move across Europe.”

Farron came out in support of the EU’s quota plan for distributing the influx of asylum seekers flooding into Europe – a plan which Cameron’s government has opted out of.

Despite impassioned criticism of the Conservatives, Farron also avidly defended the Lib Dem’s five years in power in a coalition government with them.

“We paid a heavy price for our time in government but we did right by our country,” he said.

Farron invoked Canadian folk singer Joni Mitchell to drive his point home, saying “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

“We will learn from the last five years, but we will not disown the last five years,” he added.

“You know, there are those that would like me to take this opportunity to distance myself from the past five years, to say it was all some dreadful mistake, to say I disagree with [former party leader Nick Clegg]. But I don’t and I won’t,” he said.

The Lib Dem’s were struck with cataclysmic defeat in May when their 57 seats in the House of Commons were reduced to a meager eight in the general election.