Nick Clegg has said he is ready to work with Ed Miliband in a coalition if the voters install Labour as the largest party at the 2015 general election.
In his closing speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow today, Mr Clegg will appeal to the public to give his party a share of power for another five years, saying they are just getting into their stride in government. “The absolute worst thing to do would be to give the keys to Number 10 to a single party government – Labour or the Conservatives,” he will say.
During a round of media interviews last night, the Deputy Prime Minister sought to kill growing speculation that he is preparing to form a second coalition with the Conservatives in 2015.
Asked if he could comfortably say “Bye bye David Cameron, hello Ed, I will be your deputy now”, he told the BBC: “I’ll tell you why I could, it isn’t about my personal preference, it isn’t about whether this person likes that person more, or whether they get on better with this person ... It is about following the instructions, the instructions manual handed to us [by the voters].”
Mr Clegg said: “Of course I would serve in a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition if that is clearly what the British people want and of course that it is possible to assemble [one].”
Asked if Mr Miliband would be a good prime minister, Mr Cameron replied: “I don’t know, it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t think you should judge people until they’ve been able to prove themselves. I personally think that the Labour Party and Ed Miliband himself have assumed that the general election is somehow going to be delivered to them on a plate simply by criticising the Coalition and the difficult decisions we’ve had to make – often unpopular decisions because we’ve had to clean up the mess they’ve left behind.”
He made clear he would not stand down as Liberal Democrat leader if Labour demanded that as the price of forming a coalition. “It’s not for them to hand-pick which individual Liberal Democrats they work with, in the same way as it’s not for me to hand-pick the Labour team,” he said.
In today’s speech, Mr Clegg will stress that he is ready to work with either Labour or the Tories in the national interest. He will say: “I don’t look at Ed Miliband and David Cameron and ask myself who I’d be most comfortable with, as if I was buying a new sofa.”
Mr Clegg will tell his party to “feel proud” of what it has achieved in office since 2010. “This recovery wouldn’t be happening without us. We have made sure the deficit is being cut at the right pace … Three years. We’re not even done yet. Can you imagine what we could do with five more?”
He will claim the sacrifices made by the British people would be put at risk if Labour or the Conservatives governed alone. “Labour would wreck the recovery. The Conservatives would give us the wrong kind of recovery. Only the Lib Dems can finish the job and finish it in a way that is fair,” he will say.
Mr Clegg will tell delegates that the Liberal Democrats have completed their journey from “the comforts of opposition” to a party of government. He will argue: “We’re no one’s little brother. We’re not trying to get back into government to fold into one of the other parties – we want to be there to anchor them to the liberal centre ground... bang in the middle. We’re not here to prop up the two-party system. We’re here to bring it down.”
In an unusually personal speech, the Deputy PM will admit he had a privileged background but insist that the upheavals faced by his parents and grandparents meant he was taught not to “ take things for granted”. He will say: “My Dutch mother had spent much of her childhood in a prisoner of war camp. My dad’s Russian mother had come to England after her family lost everything in the Russian Revolution... We were raised to believe that everyone deserves a chance because everyone’s fortunes can change, often through no fault of their own.”
Mr Clegg will stress that, since entering government, he has spent more time than anything else on improving social mobility through measures such as the pupil premium for disadvantaged children.