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Monday, 17 December 2012

Nick Clegg: "We're not centre ground tourists. The centre ground is our home"

The Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, has used a speech this morning to the Centre Forum to claim the centre ground for the Lib Dems. Saying: "What I want to set out is a case for why Britain should be governed from the centre ground. A case for both a stronger economy and a fairer society, because we can have both – they are not mutually exclusive." 

Continuing Mr Clegg said: "Serious parties know that that the centre ground is the only place from which Britain can be governed. And serious leaders try to keep their parties in the centre ground." Also saying that "we’re not centre ground tourists. The centre ground is our home." 

The Deputy Prime Minister also defended the Lib Dem's role in the Coalition government: It’s worth pausing here for a moment and making a point about the immediate future of my party. There are two alternatives. If we are to become a more permanent fixture of government, then it will be, at least at first, as a partner in coalitions. That means embracing the realities of coalition government, and becoming better and better at negotiating successfully on behalf of those in Britain who expect us to stand up for them."

Continuing: "It means accepting compromise. It means putting up with people who object that we haven’t got everything they wanted, and who can’t see the value in getting much, much more than we ever could in opposition. Because that is the alternative – a retreat to the comfort and relative irrelevance of opposition.  But – and let me make this very clear – choosing opposition over government is not a values-free choice."

Mr Clegg also explained why he thinks the Liberal Democrats can only be a true centre ground party: "The Tory right dreams of a fantasy world...
  • where we can walk away from the EU, but magically keep our economy strong...
  • where we can pretend the world hasn’t moved on, and stand opposed to equal marriage...
  • where we can refuse to accept the verdict of the British people and pretend the Conservatives won a majority of their own.
The Labour left lives in a different, but no less destructive, fantasy world...
  • where their irresponsible borrowing in government can be remedied by borrowing more...
  • where every budget reduction can be opposed without explaining where the money should come from...
  • where games can be played with political reform and EU budget policy without long-term damage to their credibility."
"While the tribalists in other parties desert the centre ground under pressure, the Liberal Democrats have done the reverse. 

Under pressure, we’ve moved towards the centre. Governing from the centre ground means applying pragmatic liberalism to the policy challenges of our time. But pragmatic liberalism is not the same as dogmatic liberalism. And that is what distinguishes Liberal Democrats in opposition from Liberal Democrats in government."

Labour’s Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, commenting on Nick Clegg’s speech today, said: "Nick Clegg will try every trick in the book to distance himself from the record of his government. But as ever, with the Lib Dems, they say one thing whilst doing another - resulting in a record of economic failure, trebled tuition fees, nurses cut, police axed and millions paying more while millionaires get a tax cut. "Bearing this in mind, what we really should be hearing from Nick Clegg today is a proper apology and a declaration that from now on he will actually stick by the promises he makes."

A Lib Dem source told me that: "Harriet Harman is simply wrong. Millions aren't paying more they're paying less. Starting next April, 21 million people will pay up to £600 less in income tax a year. Thanks to this change, people earning the minimum wage will have seen their income tax bill halved since 2010. Also we're taking 2 million of the lowest paid people have been taken out income tax all together, changes that Harriet Harman and her colleagues voted against".