Clegg cautions over outright win
Outright victory for either Labour or Conservatives in the general election would put Britain's economic recovery in jeopardy, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has claimed.
With the Liberal Democrats polling in single figures - and even trailing the Greens by three points in fifth place on 6% in a survey earlier this week - Mr Clegg is making no secret that his ambition on May 7 is not victory but for his party to be returned to coalition with whichever of the others is in the best position to strike a deal.
He dismissed predictions of a wipe-out of Lib Dem MPs, insisting that the party will "confound expectations" thanks to determined doorstep campaigning in its stronghold seats.
In a round of TV interviews in Bristol, Mr Clegg said that the "central exam question" facing politicians on May 7 was how to "finish the job of securing an economic recovery but doing it fairly" and warned that the UK's economy was "still not out of the woods yet" following the 2008 crash.
He told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "It is fair to say that I am making the case that the worst thing for this country right now - as the economic recovery still needs to take root, as we need to make sure we finish the job of securing an economic recovery but doing it fairly - the worst thing we can do as a country is give the keys to 10 Downing Street either to Ed Miliband or David Cameron on their own.
"Ed Miliband sticks his head in the sand and simply doesn't want to deal with the issue of how we balance the books, and David Cameron and George Osborne have announced quite categorically that they want to cut, cut, cut the amount of money going to public services, way beyond what is necessary, for ideological reasons.
"If we allow either a Labour or Conservative government, I genuinely think that the economic recovery will be put into jeopardy and, worse than that, that the kind of economic recovery we have - particularly if the Conservatives are in government on their own - wouldn't be nearly as fairly spread as we have tried to do in coalition over the last five years."
Asked whether he accepted the polls suggest the Lib Dems are heading for annihilation in the election, Mr Clegg told Sky News Sunrise: "I have been leader of the Liberal Democrats for eight years and I have lost count of the number of breathless predictions that the end is nigh and the Liberal Democrats are going to be wiped out.
"Every single time, we confound our critics and we confound the vitriol and cynicism from right and left.
"I do think we will confound expectations and confound our critics again."
Mr Clegg later warned that a coalition involving the Scottish National Party or Ukip would leave Nicola Sturgeon or Nigel Farage holding the "whip hand" in Downing Street.
The Deputy Prime Minister told LBC radio: "We've got a cottage industry of speculation of whether Labour would do a coalition with the SNP, whether Nigel Farage and David Cameron would chum up together in Downing Street in a Tory-Ukip coalition.
"For people who don't like this coalition, just have a look at those prospects.
"The idea of Nicola Sturgeon or Nigel Farage with the whip hand in Downing Street would make the most fierce critics of this coalition slightly more benevolent in attitude towards this coalition.
"Let's see what happens. I think the way in which the Labour Party appear to be flirting - or not flirting, depending on who you listen to - with the prospect of coalition with the SNP, the way in which the Conservatives are furiously both condemning and seeking to seduce Ukip, are all pretty unedifying.
"I don't think those outcomes are great. Nor, as it happens, do I think a Conservative-only or Labour-only government would be great either, because the Conservatives would cut too much and the Labour Party would borrow too much."
Mr Clegg accused Mr Cameron of "ducking and weaving" in an "increasingly laughable" attempt to avoid taking part in televised leaders' debates as part of the election campaign, after the Prime Minister suggested that Northern Irish parties should be included alongside the seven parties already invited to take part.
"Having expressed truly moving and touching dewy-eyed compassion for the place of the Greens, now David Cameron says he is equally worried for the fate of the DUP. I suspect next week he will be worried about the fate of the Monster Raving Loony Party and when they are in, possibly the tea lady and why she is not in the debate as well," said Mr Clegg.
"Why don't we just have everybody? It is getting ludicrous, this endless ducking and weaving, using other people as an alibi for avoiding something which I think is the simple old-fashioned principle: if you've been in power, if you run things, you should be held to account.
"The danger with this increasingly laughable way in which the Conservatives are pushing the broadcasters to invite an ever larger cast of people is that - just imagine what it's going to be like for the viewing public. By the time everyone has done their one-minute introduction, the whole nation will have switched over to Coronation Street."
Mr Clegg said that at least one of the debates should include the four main parties, as defined by regulators Ofcom - the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and Ukip.
"Have the great smorgasbord one with everyone under the sun, if you want, as one of the debates," he said.
"But surely the British people want to hear what an independent regulator has identified as the main parties up against one another. It's more manageable than this great family-photo approach that the broadcasters now seem to be advocating."