The Liberal Democrats are at a “fork in the road” and must decide whether to be a party of government or “impotent” opposition, Nick Clegg will tell his party today.
The Deputy Prime Minister will take on his internal party critics by demanding a slimline manifesto at the 2015 election setting out the Lib Dems’ non-negotiable “red lines” in another coalition rather than a long shopping list of policies.
Mr Clegg will tell his party’s local government conference in Manchester that the Lib Dems need to decide whether they are “a firm party of government” or consign themselves to being “the third party” forever. “The truth is this: the Lib Dems can do more good in a single day in local and national government than in an eternity in opposition,” he will say.
Admitting the party has “taken a hit” since joining the Coalition in 2010, he will say: “Hankering for the comfort blanket of national opposition, seeking to airbrush out the difficult decisions we have had to take [would] condemn our party to the worst possible fate – irrelevance, impotence, slow decline.”
Mr Clegg will argue:“We cannot fake this choice. Our party needs to make some big changes to the way we do things – the way we do things, the way we deploy our message, how we design our policies.”
Before 2010, the only way the Lib Dems could get a foothold against the two biggest parties was through targeted, street-by-street campaigns. But he will argue this will not be an option at the 2015 election now that his party has been in government and demand a disciplined central message about a “stronger economy and fairer society”. He will say: “The idea that in a general election we can be under a national spotlight and yet run the campaign as a series of loosely linked by-elections just isn’t possible.”
Mr Clegg said that in 2015, he would not repeat the “mistake” of the 2010 manifesto pledge to phase out university tuition fees. “We are going to work harder than ever to produce a manifesto that is practical, responsible and deliverable,” he will say. “We will be even clearer with people about the commitments that are priorities and the ambitions which we accept may be affected by resources and commitments. As a party with compassionate instincts, the desire to offer big spending commitments will be as strong as it has ever been, But we will resist the temptation to talk big and end up delivering small.”