Clegg: rioters deserve compassion, not rough justice in the courts


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Indy Politics

Nick Clegg will call today for a compassionate response to those who took part in last month's riots, in marked contrast to David Cameron's call for them to face tough punishments.

In his closing speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham, the Deputy Prime Minister will declare that many of the rioters seemed to have nothing to lose. "It was about what they could get, here and now, not what lies in front of them, tomorrow and in the years ahead. [It was] as if their own future had little value," he will say.

"Too many of these young people had simply fallen through the cracks. Not just this summer but many summers ago when they lost touch with their own future. So often the people who have gone off the rails are the ones who were struggling years earlier."

Mr Clegg will announce a £50m scheme to create two-week summer schools, from next year, for 100,000 disadvantaged children to stop them "losing their way" when they go from primary to secondary school. The funding will come from the existing £1.25bn "pupil premium" budget.

In another sign of tension over the Coalition's response to the riots, Lord McNally, the Liberal Democrat justice minister, revealed that Downing Street was pressing for new offences to be added to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill now going through Parliament.

Lord McNally told a conference fringe meeting he was "having to fend off" the No 10 Policy Unit's efforts to insert new offences and stricter sentences into the Bill. "It's in grave danger of becoming a Christmas Tree of a bill on which baubles are hung. We are not fighting only on one front," he said.

Mr Clegg will turn his fire on the Conservatives and Labour as he positions his party as the only one willing to stand up to Britain's "vested interests." He will say he wants to ensure "a fair start for every child". But he will risk causing further strains inside the Coalition by suggesting that the Tories are an obstacle to his crusade to boost social mobility.

Mr Clegg will tell his party: "In our long, proud liberal history, we have never served the media moguls, the union barons or the bankers. We do not serve, and we will never serve, vested interests. We are in nobody's pocket. That's why we speak up, first and loudest, when the establishment lets the people down."

He will argue that, in the last three years, Britain's "establishment institutions" have been exposed – with the City of London shattered by bankers' greed, the media corrupted by phone hacking and Parliament shamed by the expenses scandal.

Mr Clegg will say that many children in Britain face a "deep injustice, when birth is destiny". He will reveal he has "encountered fierce resistance from those who do so well out of the status quo". But he will pledge to allow schools to put poorer children at the front of the admissions queue, to make universities open their doors to everyone, to make firms work harder to get women on their boards, and to open up internships – an issue on which he has clashed with Mr Cameron.

He will tell delegates that "every child can do good things, great things, if only we give them the opportunities they deserve". Turning his guns on Labour, Mr Clegg will dismiss as "risible" Ed Miliband's claims to combat vested interests because his party is "in hock" to the trade unions who contribute much of its funding.

Promising to lead all-party talks on how politics is funded, Mr Clegg will call on the parties to act now rather than "wait for the next scandal."

Is Nick Clegg the man to lead the Lib Dems to the next general election?

Readers who voted for the party last time have their say:

Samantha Raper, 45, estate agent from south Manchester

I don't particularly want to see Clegg go, but I think he will be gone in four years' time. I don't think the Coalition will last that long either. The two parties aren't singing from the same hymn sheet.

Ashley Evans, 25, primary school teacher, Solihull

I don't think Clegg will be leader come the next election. Confidence is running out – I think Clegg himself sees it and will stand down. My choice for next leader would be Chris Huhne.

Malcom Kirby, 70, from Norfolk, retired

I can't see any point in changing the leadership too soon. There's too much emphasis on personality politics, when we should be looking at substance and policy. There isn't an obvious alternative.