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Lamb highlights Lib Dem failures

Published 12/05/2015

Norman Lamb said he made his decision to stand for the leadership of the Lib Dems after an awful lot of soul-searching
Norman Lamb said he made his decision to stand for the leadership of the Lib Dems after an awful lot of soul-searching

A Liberal Democrat leadership contender has said a failure to stand up to the Conservatives over the bedroom tax and the loss of trust over tuition fees had undermined support for the party.

Norman Lamb - the first MP to declare his candidacy to replace Nick Clegg - admitted the Lib Dems had failed both in communicating their influence as part of the coalition, but also in being too weak in influencing some key decisions.

The North Norfolk MP and former health and social care minister, said he was a "good friend" of Mr Clegg's - but denied that he was a "continuity candidate", adding: "I am my own man."

Mr Lamb said: "I still believe that we did the right thing in the national interest in going into the coalition.

"We did some important things which will have a long-term impact - but we did make mistakes and t hose mistakes weren't just about communication.

"For example, to allow the Conservatives to proceed with scrapping the spare room subsidy was a critical error, but we were learning as we went along.

"I do believe we were punching above our weight as a small party - but clearly, in the public's minds, we didn't do enough.

"Perhaps after a few years of a Conservative majority government, people will come to appreciate the influence we were able to exert."

Mr Lamb's responsibilities as a government whip saw him vote in favour of tuition fee increases in 2010, while his most likely leadership challenger, Tim Farron, rebelled and voted against.

He admitted this was a "debacle" that undermined the people's trust in the party.

Mr Lamb said some policies - such as the pupil premium which gives extra money to schools to help disadvantaged children - were brought about by Lib Dem influence and would prove a long-term success. However, this was not a policy which was widely understood outside political circles, he said.

Mr Lamb described his decision to stand as a difficult one and a "huge personal challenge".

He added: "I thought about it long and hard - it was a big decision which will have a massive impact on my family's life.

"I am not somebody who ever set out to be party leader - I regard myself as a conviction politician with strong beliefs and I needed to convince myself I could balance that with being party leader.

"I believe power needs to be in the hands of people and communities, that is something I think I can bring to the job."

Mr Lamb - whose majority was cut from 11,626 to 4,043 on election night - is one of just eight Lib Dem MPs remaining.

He said the Lib Dems had been hit by a "perfect storm" on election night as the public was presented with a choice between a Conservative government or a Labour government influenced by a strong SNP presence.

"In North Norfolk, I was told there were many ballot papers with a cross next to my name which had been rubbed out then put next to the Conservative candidate," he added.

"I think that perfectly encapsulates the dilemma voters across the country had in their minds."

Surviving Lib Dem MPs have criticised Mr Clegg for strategic errors which led to the party's collapse.

The former deputy prime minister has previously acknowledged the mistake on tuition fees, apologising in 2012 for breaking his pledge in a video which was later mocked and remixed into a song which entered the UK singles chart.

The leadership race is expected to be dominated by Mr Lamb and former party president Mr Farron, who has expressed anger that the election was fought "on the politics of fear".

Mr Farron has been urged to run by the leaders of the Scottish and Welsh Lib Dems, Willie Rennie and Kirsty Williams, and said he will decide in the coming days whether to throw his hat into the ring.

Many of the Lib Dems' former Cabinet ministers and potential leadership candidates, including Vince Cable and Danny Alexander, were toppled after catastrophic losses on polling day.

Mr Clegg immediately announced he was stepping down as the scale of the disaster became clear.

Nominations for the Lib Dem leadership open tomorrow. To get on the ballot, a contender must secure the endorsement of 10% of MPs - now less than one person - as well as 200 members from at least 20 local Liberal Democrat parties.

The wider membership then elects the winner via an alternative vote system, with the verdict due on July 16.

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