The Liberal Democrat leadership has suffered a blow as they were defied by the majority of their membership at the party’s annual conference with a vote to retain national housing targets as policy.
Plans to abandon a pledge to build 380,000 new homes a year were scuppered by rebel activists after the Young Liberals put forward an amendment to keep the 2019 commitment.
Following a rowdy debate at the event in Bournemouth, the party approved a motion saying: “Conference maintains its commitment to a national housing target of 380,000 new homes per year, to set a clear direction of travel and to indicate serious intent to address the housing crisis.”
Among those urging members to reject the amendment was former leader Tim Farron, who described it as “pure Thatcherism” in an impassioned speech.
“If there was a credible amendment today to build 380,000 council houses a year, I would back it,” he said.
“I reckon I can get away with being a rebel again now, I do not give a monkey’s, but amendment one does not do that.
“It is a vague and vacuous target, and we have had vague targets for years – they are not radical, they are not liberal, they are not new, they are not effective.
“Vague targets let and empower developers to build the houses that they want but never … the homes that we desperately need, especially that young people actually need. The authors of amendment one do not mean it, but it is pure Thatcherism.”
But Lib Dem London mayoral candidate Rob Blackie hit out the proposed change, criticising Mr Farron directly.
“Tim Farron, that speech was below you. Tim, you are better than that,” he said.
Leadership had been warned prior to the debate that a relaxation of national top-down housing targets would risk losing the youth vote, similar to the fallout from the Nick Clegg-era tuition fees U-turn.
“We as young people feel ignored and let down by those at the top of our party,” chair of the Young Liberals Janey Little told audience members.
“This is not the first time we have had to plead our case.”
The plan to move away from top-down national targets came as the Lib Dems seek to win over so-called “blue wall” Tory voters in places like southern England.
Earlier, chief whip Wendy Chamberlain insisted the motion was “not about Nimbyism” but about empowering local communities to make the decisions right for their needs.
But the passing of the amendment was followed by rapturous cheers across the conference hall.
The Young Liberals tweeted after the vote: “Thank you, #LDConf. There is nothing more liberal than ensuring everyone has the right to a home.”
Responding to the defeat, Lib Dem housing spokeswoman Helen Morgan said: “We are proud to be a democratic party that allows a proper debate on the major issues facing the country.
“The Liberal Democrats have adopted an extensive policy paper setting out the bold steps needed to fix the broken housing market. including building the affordable and social homes our country so desperately needs.
“We will give local authorities the powers they need to tackle the excesses of big developers, including ending land banking, as well as being able to build more social homes themselves.”