PORTSMOUTH holds the key to sparking a resurgence in popularity for the Liberal Democrats across the UK.
Leader Tim Farron believes it is essential local Lib Dems win seats at the May council elections so the party can start to mount an offensive in government again.
It’s really important we do well here. Portsmouth is a leading authority for us. It most definitely holds the key to the party’s resurgence nationally.Lib Dem leader Tim Farron
Speaking to The News during a visit to the city yesterday, he said ‘internal wars’ in the national Tory and Labour camps are helping the Lib Dems gain momentum.
But he admitted the party’s showing at last year’s general election wasn’t good enough and it had to bounce back.
Mr Farron said: ‘It’s really important we do well here.
‘Portsmouth is a leading authority for us.
‘It most definitely holds the key to the party’s resurgence nationally.
‘With regards to our popularity in Portsmouth, you only need to look at the figures. The party is the second party, just a few seats behind the Tories.
‘We have got five times as many councillors as Labour.
‘If you want to send a message to David Cameron or George Osborne, supporting the Lib Dems is the only thing to do. We want a better Portsmouth.’
The Lib Dems were dogged by scandal going into the general election as then Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock – a former Lib Dem – had admitted to forming an inappropriate friendship with a vulnerable constituent during his time in the party.
Former Lib Dem ally, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, decided to stand against him for the party, but in the end Cllr Vernon-Jackson came second to Conservative Flick Drummond, trailing by more than 5,000 votes.
But Mr Farron, who spent part of his trip visiting council tenants, didn’t blame the Hancock scandal for the party’s defeat.
He said: ‘Across the country, last May, we had an election result that was clearly bad for the Lib Dems.
‘In terms of what happened, it’s not rocket science to work out. The Conservative message was, if you don’t vote for us, we will be run by these terrible Scottish nationalists, and it slowly worked.
‘As a consequence, we have seen the ill-treatment of the NHS and junior doctors, and things like forcing schools to become academies.
‘The Conservatives are doing what they did to doctors to teachers.’
Mr Farron was also sceptical ahead of today’s shipbuilding summit with Portsmouth’s MPs Flick Drummond and Penny Mordaunt.
Together with minister for Portsmouth Mark Francois and defence minister Mark Lancaster, they hope to come up with a plan to save the shiphall.
But Mr Farron said: ‘A summit doesn’t create jobs.
‘There was a promise made by David Cameron, and he has to deliver on it.’