Clegg speech: We saved UK from 'snooper's charter,' ID cards and tax breaks for the rich... Lib Dem leader launches bid for 2015 election
Deputy Prime Minister says Lib Dems are 'only party' that will build a stronger economy and a fairer society
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 18 September 2013
Nick Clegg launched his campaign to win another five years at the centre of power in Britain by revealing the controversial right-wing Conservatives policies the Liberal Democrats have blocked inside the Coalition.
In his closing speech to the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow today, the Deputy Prime Minister said his party had ensured a "stable, successful coalition" since 2010. But he began the process of diverging from the Tories before the 2015 election by lifting the lid on their disagreements inside the Government.
Mr Clegg raised Coalition tensions as he listed 15 blocked Tory proposals alongside a more familiar roll call of 15 Lib Dem ideas the Coalition has implemented, such as the £10,000-a-year personal tax allowance from next year.
He believed he had not "said enough" about what Britain would look like if the Tories had governed alone since 2010. "Sometimes compromise and agreement isn't possible and you just have to say No," he said.
The vetoed measures included the proposed "snooper's charter" to allow the security services to monitor e-mails and phone calls; the introduction of ID cards; scrapping Natural England, the body that safeguards the environment; banning geography teachers from teaching climate change; inheritance tax cuts for millionaires; allowing companies to fire workers at will; bringing back O levels in a two-tier education system; regional pay for public sector workers; ending housing benefit for young people and ditching the Human Rights Act.
He decided to "lift the veil" after Lib Dem strategists agreed the public did not know enough about what the party was achieving behind closed Whitehall doors.
Insisting the economic recovery would not have happened without the Lib Dems, Mr Clegg said: "We are a party of government now…Our mission is anchoring Britain to the centre ground. Our place is in government again."
Raising his party's sights to the goal of being one of three big parties contending for power, he said: "If we can do this again - in government again in 2015 - we are a step closer to breaking the two-party mould for good. 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. We are the only party that can finish the job of economic recovery, but finish it fairly. The only party able to build a stronger economy and a fairer society too."
In an unusually personal speech, Mr Clegg said voters wanted to know who he is and spoke at length about his privileged upbringing, his parents, grandparents, wife and children. "I know I won't be in politics forever," he said, prompting questions about whether he would stand down if the Lib Dems do not hold the balance of power after the 2015 election. "What I will be is a father, a husband, a son, an uncle to all those I love in my family - just like anyone else."
The Lib Dems left Glasgow today in good heart. At their conference a year ago, just after Mr Clegg's apology over university tuition fees, his closest allies asked: "Can he ever recover from this?" The answer was clear: Yes.
He believes his party has completed the "journey" on which he has led it --from a protest party to a sensible, mature party of government. The sometimes rebellious conference backed him by accepting tuition fees, nuclear power and a scaled down version of Trident; voting against a 50p top rate of income tax and endorsing the Coalition's economic strategy-a vote he might well have lost a year ago.
Not many Tory or Labour figures believe their party will win an overall majority in 2015, so Mr Clegg's appeal today for voters to deny them one is a credible message rather than a cry from the wilderness.
Like their leader, the Lib Dems have proved more resilient than many people had bargained for. But they have no laurels to rest on. It is all very well to "guarantee" the "stronger economy" Labour cannot be trusted to deliver and the "fairer society" the Tories would not create on their own. But as one Clegg loyalist admitted: "We need to spell out what we stand for much more clearly, not just say we would keep the other parties in check." Specifically, the Lib Dems need to carve out distinctive policies on public services over the next year; otherwise their stance will be shaped by the Tories and Labour.
The Lib Dems, stuck at around 11 per cent in the opinion polls, crave some momentum- for example, to overtake Ukip-but fear the economic recovery may create a political recovery for the Tories without helping them. A rise of three or four points in their rating would give the Lib Dems a cushion against inevitably bad results next May in local and European and elections, when their number of MEPs could be cut from 12 to just two. But even if the Lib Dems suffer another crushing mid-term defeat, it will be too close to the 2015 election for Mr Clegg's remaining critics to push him out.
The man in the middle of British politics has been written off many times. But he is still standing. Having won over his party to support him on his "journey," he now has to persuade the voters.
Hold the centre: Vetoed measures
The proposed “snooper’s charter” to allow the security services to monitor e-mails and phone calls
The introduction of ID cards
Scrapping Natural England, the body that safeguards the environment
Banning geography teachers from teaching climate change
Inheritance tax cuts for millionaires Allowing companies to fire workers at will
Bringing back O levels in a two-tier education system
Regional pay for public sector workers
Ending housing benefit for young people
Ditching the Human Rights Act
Holding back the growth of “green energy”
New childcare ratios
Profit-making state schools
Weakening the Equalities Act
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