Clegg makes pitch for Wizard of Oz role

Nick Clegg
Image caption Nick Clegg: ''The Liberal Democrats will add a heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one''

For reasons I find somewhat difficult to explain, I have never been a huge fan of the movie, "The Wizard of Oz".

I mean, it's not as though I entirely revile fantasy narratives. When younger, I roamed happily through Gormenghast and Middle Earth.

And yet the tale of Dorothy tends to leave me cold or puzzled or both. Not so, it seems, Nick Clegg - he who would be kingmaker-in-chief for the next Westminster Parliament.

Clearly delving into Oz imagery, Mr Clegg said that he would provide the Tories with a heart and Labour with a brain. Which, of course, only leaves courage. Who, one wonders, will supply that to our tribunes?

Image caption 'Mr Clegg said that he would provide the Tories with a heart and Labour with a brain. Which, of course, only leaves courage'

Polls continue to suggest that the Liberal Democrats will be decidedly fortunate to hold what they have, especially in terms of Scottish seats.

Given that, it is understandable that Mr Clegg's pitch was one of political realism. He knows he is not going to be Prime Minister. That honour would fall to David Cameron or to Ed Miliband.

Mr Clegg's role would be to act as guiding shepherd, shunning what he characterised as the borrowing excesses of Labour on the one hand and the zeal for spending cuts of the Tories on the other.

A more apposite metaphor for Mr Clegg's approach might be to see him as Cerberus, the ferocious janny of Hades, energetically supervising ingress. (You think Cerberus is tough: you should have seen the janitor at my primary school in Dundee……)

Certainly, he will need a multi-headed approach to achieve the various defensive objectives he has set himself.

Beyond steering Labour and the Tories, he says the Lib Dems will prevent Alex Salmond from wielding any influence on UK governance and will keep Nigel Farage remote from Downing Street.

Why Alex Salmond, rather than Nicola Sturgeon? Because, Mr Clegg explained, he is the potential MP, not her.

Other possible reasons? Mr Salmond is challenging the Lib Dems in one of their Scottish seats. And Ms Sturgeon seemingly won chums in England with her debate performance, leaving her an unlikely hate figure.

In essence, then, he is offering a coalition or a confidence and supply deal with either the Tories or Labour - pre-empting the need for them to rely upon the SNP or UKIP.

It is, by definition, a limited ambition - driven by recent history and those polls.

And the offer? The LibDems have deliberately narrowed their core pitch. Increase the personal tax allowance to £12,500 - trying to garner credit for a further amplification of a policy they drove in the coalition with the Tories.

Spend more on education and the NHS in England, with comparable increases in Scotland.

Comparable importance attached to mental and physical health. Protect the environment with new green laws. Balance the structural deficit in the current budget - current, note - by 2017/18.

And West Lothian? The Lib Dems back the planned new powers for Holyrood. Like the Tories, they favour an English only stage to Commons consideration of matters which solely affect England.

However, the Lib Dems say the entire UK constitution needs consideration by a convention.

UKIP manifesto launch

UKIP, who also launched their manifesto today, would probably regard such consultation as unwarranted dithering. They favour English Votes on English Laws, full stop.

They are equally blunt on the European Union. It is a bad thing: there should be an early referendum with the objective of taking Britain out.

On immigration, they favour curbs. And they are, similarly, less than enthusiastic about the Barnett Formula which varies annually the amount of public spending devoted to Scotland, by comparison with comparable English spending departments.

UKIP would dump it, seeking thus to relieve Scotland of billions of pounds. Other parties, they say, are too worried about upsetting the Scots. UKIP are, seemingly, sanguine about Caledonian ire.

Image copyright PA
Image caption UKIP has said its manifesto is "serious and costed"

Their manifesto, of course, contains much more. Low taxation. More money for the NHS in England. A boost for defence spending.

Their leader Nigel Farage previously said that his party's manifesto for 2010 was "drivel".

To be clear, Mr Farage was not responsible for that.

Launching the new version, he said UKIP had changed immeasurably from the party of five years back. This election will presumably reflect how much voters appreciate that.

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