Nick Clegg exclusive interview: 'The clouds are lifting. We need to look people in the eye and say - we got it right'

Deputy Prime Minister goes to the Lib Dem conference leading a party that has failed to impress the public with its achievements. He tells Andrew Grice he wants that to change

‘We need to lift the veil,” Nick Clegg said as he promised to talk more about his battles with the Conservatives inside the Coalition. While the Liberal Democrats’ private polling shows that one in four voters will either vote for the party or are considering it, it also reveals that many people have little idea what the Lib Dems have achieved in government since 2010.

In an important change of gear, Mr Clegg will talk more openly about what his party has stopped the Tories from doing, as well as highlighting the flagship Lib Dem policies the Coalition has implemented, such as the £10,000-a-year income tax threshold that starts next April. His message to voters is that if the Lib Dems had not been there the “nasty party” would have lurched to the right.

Rehearsing his speech to the Lib Dem conference in an interview with The Independent, the Deputy Prime Minister rattled off a list of Tory proposals that his party has vetoed. It includes a recent attempt to cut planned child care provision for two-year-olds; a 40p top rate of income tax (instead of the current 45p); cuts in inheritance tax for the rich; workers being “fired at will” without good reason; state schools being run for profit; a divisive two-tier examination system; and regional pay for public sector workers.

“These things would have happened if the country had turned blue,” Mr Clegg explained in his Whitehall office yesterday. “We need to explain that this country would be very different indeed – in my view a lot less fair – if the Conservatives had been left to their own devices.” The other half of the Lib Dems’ pitch is that, if they were in coalition with Labour after 2015, they would rein in a party that cannot be trusted to run the economy.

“We need to be unabashed about the fact that we have played a vital, even pivotal, role in saving the British economy and a leading role in providing fairness in the tax, education and skills systems and greening our economy for the future,” Mr Clegg said.

“We need to look people in the eye and say, ‘We got it right’. We made a big judgement, we were criticised for it, we were put under a lot of pressure, but we got it right,” he said. “There is a long way to go. But the clouds are lifting, there is brighter news, we have turned a corner and passed through the darkest hour. That would not have been possible if the Lib Dems had not held our nerve and held together as we have.”

The $64,000 question for many Lib Dems is: how does the party stop the Tories getting all the credit for the return to economic growth? His answer: “By telling the truth.” Another reason to “lift the veil” on the Coalition’s inner workings.

Mr Clegg is exasperated that left-wing critics within the party are threatening to defeat him on the economy, just when it is picking up. When he urges the conference to reject a rebel motion on Monday, he said, “I will be inviting delegates to put their hands up to admit we were right”. Rejecting claims that he is advocating “Osbornomics”, he insisted: “It is not an act of fiscal masochism as some people describe it, but quite a measured and stable approach to dealing with the deficit.”

Some of the critics want Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, to lead the party into the next election – among them Lord Oakeshott, who said woundingly on Thursday that Mr Clegg’s personal ratings were as bad as those of Michael Foot, the man who led Labour to a crushing defeat in 1983.

Mr Clegg replied: “I would miss [Lord Oakeshott] if he didn’t pop up at this time of year. It is like clockwork. The weather becomes foul, we have our conference, and up pops Matthew Oakeshott with some disobliging comments. It is his role in life. I can’t really take it that seriously.”

He insisted: “I will be the leader up to and beyond the next general election because the vast bulk of the party not only accepts but endorses the basic strategy as we move from being a party of opposition to one of government, a progressive party in the liberal centre. If you have a strategy you think is broadly the right one, the worst thing to do is constantly chop and change.

“Parties that becomes short-term, tactical, turn in on themselves, or duck and weave because of the latest poll, do very badly indeed. There is no clarity, you leave people confused, look weak and uncertain. It is not easy, but we have chosen the right path for the right reasons. Therefore it is essential we see it through.”

Mr Clegg takes more seriously the parting shot by Sarah Teather, the former Schools Minister, who, as she announced she will leave Parliament at the election, undermined his claims about standing up to the Tories by saying he had given too much ground on immigration and welfare.

While he dismissed her account as a “caricature”, and defended the Government’s £26,000-a-year cap on benefit payments for a family, he shared her concern about the “bedroom tax”. He said he was “the prime mover” in winning more discretionary funds for councils to ease the pain, and is nagging Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, to keep the controversial cuts in housing benefit under review.

“The unease, which I totally understand and in many ways share, is for those individuals who get caught out as the system is changed from one approach to the other,” Mr Clegg admitted. “We have got to keep this under review all the time.”

A debate has begun about the Lib Dems’ target audience in 2015. In a previous interview with The Independent, Mr Clegg in effect wrote off the 2010 Lib Dem voters who were appalled at his decision to enter a coalition with the Tories. But Tim Farron, the left-of-centre Lib Dem president, said this week: “The people who are most likely to vote for you next time are those who voted for you last time. You don’t write people off.”

Mr Clegg insisted there was no contradiction: his party would woo “soft Labour” as well as “soft Conservative” voters. All he meant was that some people wanted to cast a protest vote, and would never support a party in power.

“I am quietly optimistic,” he said. “I accept we have a huge mountain to climb. We have a long way to go. We have lost a lot of support.”

Today The Sun depicted him as a poodle, after a poll found that people thought it was the animal he most resembled. Revealingly, perhaps, his aides had not shown him it. I did. His instant response had some bite: “Just ask the Tory backbenchers who constantly complain I stop the Tory party from doing what they want. They say I am the tail wagging the dog.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home