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Lib Dem leader says East Anglia deserves 'strong opposition'

PUBLISHED: 15:54 09 May 2017

Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron speaking during a rally of Lib Dem activists   Yui Mok/PA Wire

Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron speaking during a rally of Lib Dem activists Yui Mok/PA Wire

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has conceded the General Election is a "foregone conclusion" but called on voters in East Anglia not to hand Theresa May a "colossal landslide".

Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron on the campaign trail     Yui Mok/PA WireLiberal Democrats leader Tim Farron on the campaign trail Yui Mok/PA Wire

Speaking to this newspaper Mr Farron said his party could become the “real opposition” after the June 8 poll and gave strong backing to North Norfolk candidate Norman Lamb.

Mr Lamb faces a Tory onslaught in the constituency he has held since 2001 but which voted strongly in favour of Brexit which the Lib Dems fiercely oppose.

Mr Farron wants a second referendum on leaving the European Union once the negotiations with Brussels are complete but now faces the difficult task of persuading people to back his party even in areas that want out of Europe.

As he began a battle bus tour of the nation he reached out to Leave voters across our region saying: “Even if you voted for Brexit it is better not to hand the Tories a landslide.”

He added that having “yes men and women” Conservatives in Parliament would be dangerous for schools, hospitals and families across Norfolk.

Mr Farron believes a strong opposition is vital in a parliamentary democracy and although he admits the result of the election is “not in doubt” the size of Mrs May’s mandate remained up for grabs.

“It does not matter which way you voted in the referendum last year,” he said. “The question you have to ask yourself is do you want a colossal Tory majority where your MP takes schools and hospitals for granted and just does whatever the whips office tell them?

“On Brexit we are clear that the people should get a say after any deal – the people should get the final say. If you voted Leave before and do it again then so be it.

“But that debate should not take away from the need to have the best candidate doing the job and tackling the local issues.”

In North Norfolk where Mr Lamb faces a strong Tory challenge from James Wild, Mr Farron was clear about the electorate’s options: “Norman is the best MP North Norfolk has ever had. The fact that the constituency voted to leave the European Union should not matter in the slightest.

“He knows the issues and has worked very hard over a very long time – and achieved an awful lot. He is vastly experienced and there really is no-one else who could come close to matching him.”

Although the Lib Dems would have expected a better overall showing in last week’s local elections, Mr Farron said he was encouraged by their performance in Norfolk. However, the results were something of a mixed bag with the party making some gains at the expense of UKIP and the Tories but not a significant breakthrough.

Nonetheless the Lib Dem leader remains defiant: “I was pleased with vote share. Having a local election so close to the General Election offers a very important insight – it is a foregone conclusion but we can still be the opposition this country deserves.”

Speaking about the looming social care crisis in the East, Mr Farron said Tory plans to cap costs to individuals at £85,000 was a re-heated Coalition Government proposal championed by the Lib Dems but ditched when they lost power.

“No-one can trust the Tories on this issue – they have already scrapped a similar pledge once,” he said. “Our policy to raise income tax by 1p is the only creditable answer to this issue which will, of course, impact all of us.”

Mr Farron is adamant that the Lib Dems can rebuild after five years in coalition with the Conservatives left them decimated at the 2015 general election. He added that the party should not regret going into a power-sharing agreement but vowed they would not consider it this time: “There is no chance I could not go into coalition with Jeremy Corbyn,” he said.

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