Nick Clegg drew clear dividing lines with the Conservatives over tax and green issues yesterday as he sought to carve out a niche for the Liberal Democrats as a "third party of government" who could rein in either the Tories or Labour in another coalition after the next general election.
In his closing speech to the Liberal Democrat conference, Mr Clegg vowed to veto a further reduction in the top rate of income tax from 45p to 40p in the pound, the level George Osborne originally wanted before he cut it from 50p to 45p from next April. The Deputy Prime Minister said his party would use its influence to ensure the Coalition lived up to its promise to be the greenest government ever.
Mr Clegg positioned the Liberal Democrats as equidistant from the two biggest parties and said politicians would "take their orders from the voters" in another hung parliament. However, he told regional newspaper journalists in Brighton: "If people want just protest politics, if they want a sort of 'I don't like the world, let me get off' party, they've got one. It's called the Labour Party."
Mr Clegg said: "If Plan A was really as dogmatic as our critics claim, I'd be demanding a Plan B… We have taken big and bold steps to support demand and boost growth. And we stand ready to do so again and again and again until self-sustaining growth returns."
Analysis: The Liberal Democrats will stick to the Coalition's core mission but nag the Conservatives to do more to boost growth by increasing spending on housing and infrastructure.
Mr Clegg said: "Now that we have brought the top rate of tax down to 45p… there can be no question of reducing it further in this parliament… All future cuts in taxation must pass one clear test: do they help people on low and middle incomes get by and get on?"
Analysis: This means Mr Osborne cannot go any further, even if the cut from 50p to 45p brings in more revenue. However, Mr Cameron was unlikely to risk another "tax cut for millionaires" before 2015.
Mr Clegg warned that "further belt-tightening" is "inescapable" but said the Liberal Democrats would ensure it would not start with benefits cuts.
Analysis: George Osborne is seeking £10bn more welfare cuts but Mr Clegg will demand tax rises for the wealthy in return. Liberal Democrats will agree a Government-wide spending plan for 2015-16 but not for later years.
Mr Clegg's subliminal message was, to quote the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1968: "I'll tell you what's going on, I'm going on."
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