UK Politics

Nick Clegg: Lib Dems offer 'heart and spine'

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nick Clegg said only another coalition government featuring the Lib Dems could "finish the job" of fixing the economy

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has said his party would "provide heart to the Conservatives and spine to Labour" if it found itself in coalition after May.

He claimed a Labour or Conservative majority government would be a "massive risk" to the economic recovery.

In his first press conference of the year, Mr Clegg pledged that in power, the Lib Dems would borrow less than Labour and cut less than the Tories.

He said the party would anchor a future coalition in the centre ground.

Mr Clegg's pitch came on a busy Monday in Westminster, as the parties launched new year offensives ahead of May's general election.

He said Conservative plans to tackle the deficit were a "con" while a Labour posed a "clear and present danger" to the economic recovery.

"A strong coalition government with Liberal Democrats anchoring it in the centre ground, and not lurching to the extremes of left or right, remains the best way to make sure we finish the job and finish it fairly," he said.

'Divisive populism'

Mr Clegg said the central question at this year's general election was which party would be best placed to finish the job of fixing the economy, and do it fairly.

With both the Tories and Labour "reverting to type" and offering increasingly extreme policies, he said, the Lib Dems were needed to act as the "heart" of the Conservatives to temper spending cuts and a "backbone" against extra Labour borrowing.

Mr Clegg also took aim at the smaller parties, who he accused of pursuing their own interests at the expense of the national interest.

He said UKIP, the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru "all, in their own way, peddle divisive populism based on grievance", and warned there would be "mayhem" if a collection of them ended up propping up a bigger party in government".

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Media captionNick Clegg compared Labour to an unreliable ex-partner and the Tories to a dodgy mobile phone salesman

Addressing reporters, Mr Clegg said his party's record in power showed that the Lib Dems deserved to be in government again after the election.

He said the party had "stepped up to the plate" in 2010 and entered into government with the Conservatives in the national interest, at "short-term political cost".

"And that is the same attitude we will apply again, because the stakes are high again, if not higher, because we are not out of the woods economically yet.

"You could undo this economic recovery in a split second if you don't maintain a consistent approach to what we've done," the Lib Dem leader said.

He predicted that his party would "massively confound the critics" at the election, and "will do a lot, lot better" than some have suggested it will do.

NHS funding

The Lib Dem leader sought to continue to distance his party from its coalition partners ahead of the general election in May.

He accused the Conservatives of pursuing an ideological approach to cutting public services "packaged up as continuity".

He said: "They have made a deliberate choice to remorselessly cut the money for public services even after the deficit has been eliminated.

Image caption David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg stepped up their attacks as the parties returned from the festive break

"And their cuts will be even deeper because they've committed to £7bn of unfunded tax cuts and will not ask for a single penny more in tax from the very wealthy."

Mr Clegg also told reporters only the Lib Dems meet "in full" the £8bn extra a year the head of the NHS says is needed by 2019-20.

Full details of how the party could afford to pay for the blueprint set out by NHS chief executive Simon Stevens would be revealed "in the coming days", he added.

Monday also saw senior Conservative cabinet ministers attack Labour's general election promises in a news conference in Westminster, accusing the party of pledging £20.7bn in unfunded spending commitments.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband set out his pitch to voters and urged party activists to hold four million conversations with voters ahead of the election.

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