Nick Clegg: Coalition risk is worth it
Nick Clegg urged Liberal Democrats to turn their fire on the Tories yesterday as he attempted to draw a line under damaging scandals and build on the Eastleigh by-election.
The Deputy Prime Minister mocked his coalition partners for veering to the right like a “broken shopping trolley” after a disastrous showing in the contest, and promised to keep them in check.
But he also made clear that there was no chance of borrowing more to kick-start the economy, despite calls from Business Secretary Vince Cable and some party members.
Shortly before his speech, activists gave Mr Clegg a bloody nose by overwhelmingly rejecting plans for so-called secret courts. Two prominent party figures – lawyers Jo Shaw and Dinah Rose – resigned their memberships in protest at his “car crash” handling of the legislation.
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However, the leader appealed for unity yesterday and recognition that it was achieving great things.
“I know some of you have had a quiet fear, ticking away at the back of your minds. The worry that the risk we took was too big,” he said.
“No, Liberal Democrats. It may have been a risk, but we took it for the right reasons: to steer Britain through a time of economic crisis; to govern in the national interest; to govern from the centre ground; to build a stronger economy, in a fairer society, enabling everyone in Britain to get on in life.
“And that decision will pay off – for the country, and for us too. There is a myth that governing together, in coalition, diminishes the ability of the smaller party to beat the bigger party.
“The idea that, in Tory facing seats the Liberal Democrats will find it impossible to distinguish our record, our values, from theirs. But that myth has been utterly confounded.
“The opposite is true. The longer you stand side-by-side with your opponents, the easier your differences are to see. We don’t lose our identity by governing with the Conservatives. The comparison helps the British people understand who we are.”
Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems were no longer a “receptacle for people who don’t like the world”. “We grapple with the world. We strive to make it better. And the more people who see that, all the better too,” he added.
He hit out at Tories attempting to push the Prime Minister to the right, saying his coalition partners were delivering “bizarre mixed messages”.
“The Conservative party knows it needs to stay on the centre ground to have any chance. But they just can’t manage it, no matter how hard they try. They’re like a kind of broken shopping trolley. Every time you try and push them straight ahead they veer off to the right hand side...”