GLASGOW Scotland (Reuters) - Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whose party faces a hammering in a general election next year, defended its record in Britain’s ruling coalition on Wednesday and said he had fought against Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives for policies that benefitted more people.
In a bid to woo voters, Clegg sought to differentiate his Liberal Democrats from the Conservatives in a speech at the party’s annual conference in Glasgow. He cast his party as a moderating force in a political landscape dominated by what he called the “bitter tribalism of left and right” and said a coalition was good for the country.
In government as a junior partner since 2010, Clegg’s party is languishing fourth in the opinion polls. It has come under fire for reneging on high-profile promises — such as scrapping student tuition fees — and some members think the decision to join forces with the Conservatives was a mistake.
The Liberal Democrats lost all but one of their representativs in the European Parliament at elections in May and pollsters predict they could be left with just half their 56 lawmakers in the British parliament after 2015’s national vote.
Yet with the election set to be a tight-run fight between the Conservatives and the opposition Labor party, they could still hold the balance of power.
Clegg highlighted a string of policies which he said would not have been passed had his party not been in government.
“I’m immensely proud of what we’ve achieved and I don’t want the (Conservatives) claiming all the credit for everything we’ve done,” Clegg said.
Raising the level at which people start paying tax on their earnings was one example, he said.
“The Conservatives couldn’t have been more explicit that it wasn’t their priority during our budget negotiations where, year after year, it was frequently referred to as ‘your tax cut, Nick’,” he said.
His coalition partners had focused on cutting the top rate of income tax for high earners, he said.
“I can’t think of a better, simpler illustration of what sets the two coalition parties apart: (Conservatives) insisting on tax cuts for the few; Liberal Democrats insisting on tax cuts for the many.”
Clegg has taken to warning voters of the risks of returning either a majority Conservative or Labor government, saying his centrist party would restrain the extremes of left and right.
In a speech which attacked Labor for their lack of economic competence and the Conservatives for failing to promote a fairer society, Clegg set out to persuade voters why his Liberal Democrats should remain in government whoever tops the polls.
“Simply forming a successful coalition unlocks the grip on power of the old, establishment parties ... and destroys once and for all their desperate claims that single party government is the only kind of government fit for our country.”
Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Angus MacSwan