Put us back in government in 2015, Nick Clegg says

 

Nick Clegg: "We are now where we always should have been"

Nick Clegg has urged the British people to put the Liberal Democrats back in government in 2015 to curb the excesses of the Tories or Labour.

"We are the only party that can finish the job of economic recovery, but finish it fairly," he told the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow.

After three years of coalition Britain was now a "step closer" to the death of single party government, he claimed.

He also spoke at length about his family and personal values.

The BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said Mr Clegg stuck to the argument he has been making all week - namely that coalition government works and the Lib Dems want another go at it.

In a 51-minute speech aimed at preventing the Conservatives from claiming all the credit for the economic upturn, Mr Clegg said Lib Dem policies such as infrastructure spending and more apprenticeships had made all the difference.

"The big question mark that has always hung over the Liberal Democrats - could we handle government? And handle it when the going got tough? - that question mark is now gone.

"This recovery wouldn't be happening without us."

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It is quite a radical message, an argument that the last three years of coalition should not just be an historical aberration but a permanent fixture. ”

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He said Lib Dems had proved wrong the critics who said coalition would never work - but he also looked ahead to the next election, saying that "left to their own devices" Labour or the Tories would "mess it up".

Speaking openly about forming a power sharing deal with the two bigger parties - something he avoided doing before the last election - he said: "Labour would wreck the recovery. The Conservatives would give us the wrong kind of recovery."

He listed a series of Conservative policies which he claimed the Lib Dems had blocked, including "inheritance tax cuts for millionaires, profit-making in schools, firing workers at will, regional pay for public sector workers, scrapping housing benefit for young people, ditching the human rights act and closing down the debate on Trident".

'Values and beliefs'

But he stressed that the Lib Dems were "no-one's little brother", adding: "We have our own values and beliefs."

The speech contained no new policies, following Tuesday's headline-grabbing announcement on free lunches for all children in their first three years at school in England.

Saying Lib Dems would extend the scheme to all primary school children, he said: "Their (the Conservatives) priority is to help some families over others, with a tax break for married couples.

"That tells you everything you need to know about their values."

Nick Clegg's full speech to the Liberal Democrat conference

By contrast, he said his party was helping "young children get the best possible start in life, and that tells you everything about ours".

The Lib Dem leadership have seen off challenges from activists to its nuclear weapons and economic policies, although delegates voted for a review of housing benefit rules - what critics call the "bedroom tax".

And he scoffed at suggestions that coalition was all about personal chemistry between the party leaders, saying any coalition depended on the result of the election.

The party of 'in'

In what will be seen as a hint that he is thinking of stepping down after the next election, he told activists in Glasgow that he "will not be in politics forever".

But he used the speech to set out how his liberal values came to be formed, his "privileged" childhood and his "internationalist" outlook.

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Rarely can there have been more of a gap between how a party sees itself and how it is seen by many of those outside politics”

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He said the Lib Dems had always backed "home rule" for Scotland but would be urging a "no" vote in next year's independence referendum to keep the UK together.

But he hoped the cross-party consensus would continue after the referendum to push for "the next advance in Scottish devolution".

And he said the Lib Dems would be the party of "in" when it came to an EU referendum.

Summing up what his pitch would be at the next election, he said: "In the past the Liberal Democrats would eke out an existence on the margins of British politics.

"Now we hold the liberal centre while our opponents head left and right. I have spent my entire life watching the other two mess it up. We cannot stand idly by and let them do it all over again."

Lib Dem colleagues praised Mr Clegg's "intensely personal speech" but Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman said that, far from restraining the Conservatives, the Lib Dems had backed them all the way.

"He didn't mention the million young people out of work on his watch, the tax cuts for millionaires his party helped to introduce, or the cost of living crisis that means that since he became deputy prime minister wages are down an average of £1,500 a year," she added.

"Nothing he said today made any difference to the fact that Nick Clegg is propping up a Tory-led government that's making things worse for ordinary families."

 

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