Nick Clegg has accused the Conservatives of trying to impose an “ideological fatwa” against wind farms as part of a “completely random” set of prejudices that also include the European Union and single mothers.
In a strong attack on his former coalition partners, the Liberal Democrat leader also revealed he had had to block plans by the former Education Secretary Michael Gove to allow free schools to make a profit.
The Deputy Prime Minister warned that on key issues such as civil liberties, the environment and workers’ rights, the Tories had now moved so far to the right it had almost nothing in common with the party that was elected in 2010.
“If you go back to the Conservative Party of 2010 it was all huskie hugging,” Mr Clegg told The Independent.
“They professed an interest in civil liberties, they professed an interest in the environment, they professed an interest in being a centralist party.
“Five years later it has been an almost non-stop struggle for me to remind the Conservatives to care about civil liberties – they spend most of their time at the Home Office trying to trash them. They (also) appear to have absolutely no interest in the environment whatsoever.
“I hear some people on the right of British politics rant against single mothers, the EU and wind farms all in the same breath. What have they got to do with each other? It’s a completely random set of prejudices.”
Mr Clegg said, in particular, he could not understand the policy of capping the number of onshore wind farms regardless of local people’s views.
Election Analysis: The Key Voters
Election Analysis: The Key Voters
1/6 Settled Silvers
These are the comfortably-off over-60s, still in work or drawing a decent pension – or both – who are enjoying their entitlements such as the Winter Fuel Allowance, free bus passes and free TV licence. They are worried about immigration and Europe. Both the Conservatives – who are pledging to keep benefits for wealthier pensioners – and Ukip want their votes
2/6 Squeezed Semis
Slightly older than the Harassed Hipsters, they are the second key group for Labour’s family-focused election strategy. They are married couples on low to middle incomes who own unpretentious semi-detached homes in suburban areas. In 2001, these were the Pebbledash People sought by the Conservatives. Now the pebbledash is gone and a modest conservatory has been built at the back
3/6 Aldi Woman
In 1997 and 2001 she was Worcester Woman – a middle-class Middle Englander shopping at Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. Today, the age of austerity means she still goes to Waitrose for her basic food shop but cannily switches to Aldi for her luxury bargains such as Parma ham and prosecco. Identified by Caroline Flint, she is a key target of both Labour and the Conservatives
4/6 Glass Ceiling Woman
In her thirties or forties, she has an established career under her belt, perhaps in the “marzipan layer” – one position below the still male-dominated senior executive level. She is now, according to Nick Clegg, forced into making the “heart-breaking choice” between staying at home to bring up her children and going to work and forking out for high-cost, round-the-clock childcare
5/6 Harassed Hipsters
One of the two key groups identified by Labour as crucial to hand Ed Miliband the keys to Downing Street. Well-paid professional couples, often with children, they live in diverse urban and metropolitan areas rather than the suburbs. More comfortably off than most swing voters, they are time poor – struggling to balance raising a young family with busy work schedules
These are mainly first-time voters, though some are in their twenties – students and digital-age generation renters helping to fuel the “Green Surge”. Idealists, but with no tribal loyalty to any party, they are anti-austerity, middle class, living in urban areas. Despite studying at university or recently graduated, they are struggling to find decent jobs and want cheaper housing and a higher minimum wage
“I just don’t know what the Conservative Party has got against wind farms,” he said. “Of course you need to make sure that local communities are consulted and they don’t run rough-shod over local feelings, but this ideological fatwa against wind farms – I just don’t get it.
“There is a rational discussion to be had about how you reduce the public subsidy on renewable energy technologies as they become mature,” he said. “But what I don’t understand is how you can say to a whole country – this is the figure for the number of windmills we will have.
“There might be parts of the country that want more onshore wind farms. The public are much more open about wind power than the Conservative Party is. In those parts of the country where people have legitimate concerns then the planning system is there to make sure that things are not imposed – but to say in an arbitrary way that there cannot be a single further turbine constructed seems to me to be a bit odd.”
Asked what he had been forced to block in Government, Mr Clegg cited plans to make it easier for employers to make workers redundant and some of Michael Gove’s education reforms.
“Michael Gove started off very pragmatically but then he started believing a lot of the ideological hype,” he said. “[He] was floating the idea of introducing profit in state schools. It was bubbling around at the same time he proposed reintroducing O Levels.”
Mr Clegg said he accepted that, at this election, tomorrow’s TV debate was unlikely to result in any uplift to the Lib Dems – in contrast to 2010.
“I’m not going to triumph in these debates – that’s just self-evident,” he said. “This time I don’t have much to lose, as everyone appears to have made up their mind one way or the other.”