Lib Dem conference: UK needs ‘Lib Dem influence’

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Picture: TSPL
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Picture: TSPL
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NICK Clegg last night said he wanted his party to return to government to build a stronger economy and fairer society as senior Lib Dem figures indicated the party would be willing to form a coalition with Labour or the Conservatives after the General Election next May.

Speaking in Glasgow, the Deputy Prime Minister warned there would be severe consequences if either the Conservatives or Labour returned to power on their own.

A Conservative Government without the influence of the Lib Dems would result in a Britain “diminished and divided”, after a “botched” attempt to renegotiate in Europe and a referendum on EU membership, he claimed.

Clegg said Tory-rule would see the recovery halted as companies pulled out of the UK and borrowing costs rose.

“Workers fearing for their jobs, not just because the companies they work for are plunged into uncertainty but because their bosses can fire them at will, no questions asked,” Clegg said. “The young and the working poor hit time and time again as George Osborne takes his axe to the welfare budget with no regard for the impact on people’s lives. Schools run in the interests of profit for shareholders rather than the life chances of their pupils. A Home Office state snooping on your emails and social media. Opportunity reserved for a few at the top and everyone else told to make do with what they’ve got. A Tory party leadership in hock to their right wing, desperately running after and pandering to Ukip’s ugly nationalism. A Prime Minister trapped between being a poor man’s Margaret Thatcher and a rich man’s Nigel Farage. Compassionate Conservatism just a sound bite from a bygone age.”

Clegg also asked Lib Dem members to imagine five years of government under Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. He described them as the “two men at the heart of Gordon Brown’s operation as Labour sucked up to bankers in the City of London and then watched as the economy collapsed around them.”

Imagining a Labour chancellor with “his hands on the nation’s credit card”, Clegg said: “Borrowing a few million here, a few billion there. Throwing good money after bad at every problem that comes along. Debt piling up and up until the day of reckoning comes. A recovery squandered. Recession. Unemployment soars again, especially for the young. Fear, insecurity, opportunity stifled. Hopes and aspirations killed stone dead. A generation thrown back on the scrapheap just when it looked like they had reason to be optimistic.”

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander had earlier revealed the party was “open” to working with David Cameron or Ed Miliband, although he added the Lib Dems found the prospect of working with either “deeply unattractive”.

“I wouldn’t want to pretend that one is more attractive than the other,” he said.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Lib Dem conference in Glasgow, he also revealed his party will raise the National Insurance threshold to exempt minimum wage earners.

It follows Cameron’s pledge last week at Tory conference in Birmingham to lift minimum wage earners working 30-hours a week out of income tax altogether. Alexander said the National Insurance proposal was much fairer than Cameron’s other big tax pledge – to raise the higher 40p rate threshold to £50,000, which benefits just 10 per cent of the workforce.

He said: “They are proposing that higher rate payers should get a tax cut four times as great as that for ordinary working people. Once we have reached the income tax threshold of £12,500 our next priority should be lifting the National Insurance threshold. That would really help people on low and middle incomes.”

Despite his willingness to form another coalition, the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey MP said he was ­“pissed off” with the Tories ­being credited for Britain’s recovery and accused them of “larceny on a grand scale” in stealing the Lib Dem’s £12,500 threshold policy. Today he will use his speech to state his party is behind many of the successes the Conservatives have taken credit for.

The conference will also see delegates vote on the Lib Dem pledge to commit an extra ­£1 billion in real-terms funding to the NHS over two years.