FORMER deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the Liberal Democrats will “bounce back” from the disastrous general election by filling a “chasm” in the centre ground of British politics.
Mr Clegg, who quit as Lib Dem leader after the heavy defeat in May which reduced them to just eight MPs, insisted there was still a lot of “goodwill” towards the party after its “darkest hour”.
He acknowledged that attempting to appeal to the centre ground had failed during the general election campaign, which saw the party lose 48 MPs. Speaking at the party’s conference in Bournemouth, he said: “I realise there are some who feel that pinning our colours to the centre ground risks sounding a little insipid, a neither-on-the-one-hand-nor-on-the-other kind of party.”
Mr Clegg accepted that his election assertion that he would add a “head” to Labour and a “heart” to the Conservatives in coalition “made the centre ground sound a bit too much like a tactic, rather than a place rich in values and conviction”.
He said: “I’m not sure we had an obvious strategic alternative - but I accept that criticism and take full responsibility for it.
“But what I don’t accept for one second is that the liberal, progressive, modern centre ground of British politics is an insipid place to be.”
He added that “just at the moment when we have been knocked to the floor a great big liberal-sized hole has opened up in the middle of British politics.
“In that huge chasm between a self-serving Tory government and a far-left Labour opposition lies our great opportunity.”
Mr Clegg insisted “we will bounce back” because “there is a place in British politics for tolerance, reason and compassion”. “There is a place in British politics for an open-minded, outward-looking, optimistic party.”