Nick Clegg makes the case for keeping Coalition
WMN London editor Graeme Demianyk reports from the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in Glasgow.
Nick Clegg has hailed the Liberal Democrats in Government for halting Tory plans for regional pay rates and creating a "Devonwall" constituency.
In his keynote speech to close the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow, the Deputy Prime Minister claimed a series of victories over their senior partner as he made a pitch for more coalition in 2015 – with his party holding the balance of power.
With 18 months to go to the general election, the Lib Dem leader argued "left to their own devices" both the Tories and Labour will "get it wrong".
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Speaking for 51 minutes, he contended it is Lib Dem values that keep Britain "on the right track" and only his party can "finish the job of economic recovery, but finish it fairly".
While underlining Lib Dem successes, including income tax cuts and a levy on plastic bags, and claiming economic "recovery wouldn't be happening without us", Mr Clegg made huge play of collisions with the Tories where "you just have to say 'no'".
Echoing Margaret Thatcher's "No. No. No." refrain, he told conference: "Inheritance tax cuts for millionaires – no. Bringing back O-levels and a two-tier education system – no. Profit-making in schools – no. New childcare ratios – no. Firing workers at will, without any reasons given – no, absolutely not."
Mr Clegg said Lib Dems have waged an "endless battle" in Government, and went on to take credit for blocking "regional pay penalising public sector workers" and saying "no to the boundary changes if you cannot deliver your side of the bargain on House of Lords reform".
Some will dispute whether the Lib Dems prevented ending uniform pay for teachers, nurses and other public sector workers, which would have hit low-wage Westcountry. Lib Dem backbenchers were among the backlash but an independent report put the kibosh on the idea.
Slashing MPs by 650 to 600 would have created a constituency straddling Devon and Cornwall – but many Lib Dems backed re-drawing the political map in return for reforming the Lords.
While adding personal flourishes, including how Somerset peer Lord Ashdown was his political hero as a young man, much of his address was devoted to championing the benefits of coalition.
"The absolute worst thing to do would be to give the keys to Number 10 to a single party Government – Labour or the Conservatives," he said.
"All of the sacrifices made by the British people – the pay freezes, the spending cuts, the lost jobs, the daily grind of austerity – all of that would be for nothing. Labour would wreck the recovery.
"The Conservatives would give us the wrong kind of recovery. Only the Liberal Democrats can finish the job and finish it in a way that is fair."
He added: "Back in Government – and next time that will mean back in coalition Government – the Liberal Democrats can keep the country on the right path."
Conceding "he won't be in politics forever", he told delegates that it was right for voters to judge him also by his "values, character and background".
Watched by wife Miriam, the Deputy Prime Minister – who has previously tried to keep his family out of the spotlight – drew on his experiences as a son, husband and father to explain "who I am, why I'm a Liberal Democrat and why I'm standing here today".
After almost 100 years out of power, the Lib Dems had shown they could be trusted to fix the economy and earned the right to be seen as "a party of Government", he said.
The party faces a battle to retain its seats in the South West with a quarter of Tory 40 targets being in the region.
While the Tories want five of their seats in Devon and Cornwall, the Lib Dems are targeting four constituencies across the counties.
"We're not trying to get back into Government to fold into one of the other parties.
"We're not here to prop up the two party system: we're here to bring it down," said Mr Clegg.