Julian Huppert has now taken up an academic postRichard Nicholl

“I really could have won.”

Normally such a phrase uttered by a defeated politician is hardly astonishing, a form of coping with defeat perhaps. But in the case of Cambridge’s former MP Julian Huppert, this seems far from the truth. “Over one hundred people have told me they’d have voted for me had they not assumed I was going to win,” he claims, with a smile and an accepting tone.

How did it feel when he lost then? “It was a very tough night across the country for the Lib Dems,” he says affably, adding that he believed his party was “grossly, unfairly treated.”

“The question at the election became – are you scared of Labour and the SNP, or are you scared of the Tories? Lib Dem isn’t the answer to that question,” he responds. “We were seen to be the average of the other two. Nobody votes for the average.”

Chatting in Cambridge’s Politics department, where he is teaching for the next year, Huppert is certain that, in his case, fees were not to blame for a defeat, citing his endorsement by the National Union of Students. He does think that his party “messed up” on tuition fees, but doesn’t regret that the party went into government.

“Overall, we were a massive force the good,” he says, referring to free school meals, same-sex marriage and, with a surge of enthusiasm, lifting people out of income tax.

The former MP thinks that to an extent his party was trapped in a corner in 2010, claiming that during that year’s negotiations one of Labour’s conditions was that the Lib Dems back all future tuition fee increases. Regardless, for Huppert the Coalition was better than “letting the Tories do what they want.”

It must hurt, then, to feel that the Tories have essentially been able to take credit for the progressive policies they actually fought the Lib Dems on. “The Tories outgunned us at the last election,” he tells me, agreeing that Cameron’s party took credit for all the good policies. “It was Lib Dem pressure on the Tories that caused inequality to fall during our time in government”, he asserts with conviction.

Throughout the interview it’s clear that Huppert is deeply passionate about helping people and his party, at one point reciting verbatim the start of the Liberal Democrat constitution. Clegg, for him, had consistently failed to extol the positive virtues of the Liberal Democrats and the importance of removing obstacles such as poverty from people’s lives.

As we’re shifting to the topic, I ask him what he thinks of the Tories so-called ‘assault on poverty’. “I’d happily support the Tories if that’s what they were doing. But they are just not removing poverty,” he replies, before lamenting the Conservatives’ “absurd priorities”. No doubt the government’s recent policy on tax credits would receive his ire.

With a majority Tory government and a great deal of fear across society, Huppert believes that liberals are facing difficult times. He’s undeniably concerned about the Conservatives being in power, but lacks the concern some have about the Labour leader’s ability to hold them to account. Speaking about Corbyn, Huppert tells me he “gets on very well with him, more so than many other Labour MPs”, before praising the Islington MP’s consistency in his principles.

Huppert is also supportive of Corbyn’s attempts to change Prime Minister’s Questions– although he has his doubts. “Parliament is unfortunately far, far too childish, there are plenty of people who are just pathetic,” he explains, adding that many young female MPs shy away from PMQs simply because of the hostile atmosphere. He recalls a “completely unacceptable” instance when a male MP shouted “phwoar, what a woman!” while gesticulating – Huppert leaves me almost speechless when he provides a re-enactment – to show that she had large breasts.

On top of this, he recounts MPs pulling faces to mock another member with cerebral palsy. It’s no wonder then that he considers the Commons a place of “brutal tribalism” that pollutes the entire political system. If this is the case, will he be shying away from politics come 2020? “I really haven’t decided yet” he says sincerely, adding with a smile that he’s rediscovered “‘weekends’ and ‘evenings” and will be taking time to “reconnect”. This doesn’t mean he’ll be politically inactive in the meantime, far from it.

While he refuses to badmouth his competitors and is not a “surrogate MP”, he says that desperate constituents still contact him regularly because they aren’t getting the help they need in time.

It is apparent during our conversation that he is frustrated at his limited political power, telling me that he sees a lot of things he cares about that aren’t receiving enough attention, such as LGBT+ issues, education and mental health. The latter is of particular interest for Huppert, who last year called for the government to invest an extra £500 million a year in mental health, stating at the time it had “been neglected by consecutive governments.” He also tells me that he was involved with a survey evaluating mental health in Cambridge University, campaigning for a better student environment.

“We do pile too much stress on,” he says in regards to the university, adding that mental health provision here “used to be a very good service” when he was an undergraduate. He finds people stake more on exams than they ever used to – perhaps due to the cost of higher education – and that many are afraid to discuss mental health because it can wrongly be seen as a weakness in such a competitive academic environment.

He also thinks that Cambridge students frequently suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’, where students “feel they don’t deserve to be here”. Does he, a graduate of Trinity College with a PhD in biological chemistry, class himself a sufferer?

“Yes,” he replies, “of course.”

Soon our time is up as he has to dash off to a council meeting that he’s been invited to.

Somehow I feel politics hasn’t seen the last of Julian Huppert.