Nick Clegg today pleaded with voters to give the Liberal Democrats a second look, and to judge them on their record in Government rather than their disastrous U-turn on university tuition fees.
In a defiant closing speech to the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow, the Deputy Prime Minister claimed his party was the only one standing up to populist forces like Ukip, which he said offered “the politics of fear dressed up as the politics of hope”.
He fired off repeated attacks on Labour, which he said was “not radical”, and the Conservatives, who he branded “not credible”, as he argued that the big two parties had both vacated the political centre ground.
Mr Clegg claimed the Lib Dems were the only party of “the head and the heart, of compassion and resolve” and the only one “refusing to trade in fear”. He argued: “We are the only party holding firm to decent, liberal values while anger and blame are on the rise.” Insisting that his party had learnt lessons from its mistakes, he urged voters to judge it not “by the one policy we couldn’t deliver in Government, or by the countless policies we did deliver in Government.”
In an unusual move, Mr Clegg lifted the lid on private Coalition discussions ahead of the 2012 Budget when he pressed George Osborne to raise the personal tax allowance – the flagship Lib Dem policy now adopted by the Tories. He disclosed that the Chancellor said then: “I don’t want to deliver a Lib Dem Budget.”
Mr Clegg recalled that Mr Osborne cut the 50p top tax rate, telling Lib Dem delegates: “I can’t think of a better, simpler illustration of what sets the two coalition parties apart.”
Looking to next May’s election, he said: “The choice is clear: unfunded Tory tax cuts or Lib Dem tax cuts which are funded and fair. The difference is that they want to cut taxes for the wealthiest, paid for by the working age poor. We want to cut taxes for working people, paid for by the wealthiest.”
Mr Clegg said: “Fairness without a strong economy does not work. A strong economy without fairness doesn’t work either.” He added: “The Lib Dems will borrow less than Labour, but we’ll cut less than the Tories. We’ll finish the job [on the deficit] but we’ll finish it in a way that is fair.”
The Lib Dem leader made clear a further rise in the personal tax allowance – from £10,000 now to £12,500 by 2020 - would be a non-negotiable “red line” in any coalition talks after the election.
He predicted that Britain would vote for more coalitions and urged Lib Dems not to trash the record of the Government since 2010. His party should not “wash our hands” of the Coalition - and warned that the voters would not buy it if the party did. “I’m immensely proud of what we’ve achieved and I don’t want the Tories claiming all the credit for everything we’ve done,” he said.
Mr Clegg admitted that being in power may have persuaded some voters the Lib Dems were no longer an anti-establishment party, but he insisted they still were. He blamed “vested interests” for blocking Lib Dem reforms such as an elected House of Lords and vowed to fight on for more constitutional change.
In another jibe at Ukip, Mr Clegg said: “Our mission now is to give people a reason to reject bitter, us-and-them politics, to shun the politics of blame and fear, and choose something better. To do that, we have to provide the one thing that so many people across Britain still lack and crave – opportunity.”Reuse content