Party must adapt to new role, says Clegg


THE LIBERAL Democrats are no longer a party of protest, but one of three parties of government in the United Kingdom, its leader said yesterday.

Nick Clegg ruled out quitting his party’s coalition with the Conservatives and acknowledged that some in the Lib Dems would “rather turn back than press on” with tough years in power.

However, the Liberal Democrats can no longer choose “between the party we were and the party we are becoming”, he told his party conference in Brighton. “The past is gone and it isn’t coming back.”

Voters who want “a stop the world, I want to get off” party can choose elsewhere, he said. “There’s a better, more meaningful future waiting for us. Not as the third party, but as one of the three parties of government.” During nearly 2½ years in power, the Lib Dems had stuck to the agreement made with the Tories “even as others have wavered”, proving the party could pay the price demanded by power.

In his speech, Mr Clegg repeatedly sought to place the Liberal Democrats as the fulcrum of British politics, that would be needed by Labour or the Conservatives to form the next government.

Repeatedly lashing Labour’s record in office over 13 years, he said it had “crashed the economy” and racked up record debts.

“The people Labour claim to represent, [it] let down the most.

“So, let’s take no more lectures about betrayal. It was Labour who plunged us into austerity and it is we, the Liberal Democrats, who will get us out,” he said.

Labour often pretends “that austerity is a choice”, that sacrifices can be avoided, or that the UK can “be instantly transported to that fantasy world where there is no boom or bust, and the money never runs out”.

“But the truth is this: there is no silver bullet that will instantly solve all our economic problems. Some of our problems are structural, some international. All will take time to overcome.”

The Conservatives, meanwhile, will be held to promises made in 2010 to back renewable energies and the development of green industries, which many senior Tories now want to resile from.

Telling them to “be in no doubt” that they will be held to their promises, he said the Tories got the environment during their “vote blue, go green” phase in David Cameron’s early days. But, he said “it all seems a long time ago”.

He refused calls to identify a future preferred coalition partner, and instead faced voters with a choice: “Are you ready to trust Labour with your money again? And do you really think that the Tories will make Britain fairer?”

Speculation about the possibility of a “hung” parliament in 2015 “is the sort of discussion that politicians love”, but politicians must work with the outcome delivered by voters.

More spending cuts would be needed in coming years, but such measures were necessary to copper-fasten the UK’s independence in a world changing increasingly quickly, he said.

Many in the UK refuse to accept the scale of the threat: “That that will never happen to us is blithely assumed; the comparisons with Greece breezily dismissed.

“In coming years, some countries will get their own house in order. But some will not. Those that do will continue to write their own budgets, set their own priorities and shape their own futures.

“But those that do not will find their right to self-determination withdrawn by the markets and new rules imposed by their creditors, without warning or clemency,” he said.