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Clegg warning on new Tory coalition

Published 03/05/2015

Nick Clegg said it would be a
Nick Clegg said it would be a "disaster" if the Lib Dems split under the pressure to support a Tory government in another hung parliament

Nick Clegg has issued a warning that he is not prepared to tear the Liberal Democrats apart in order to enter into a second coalition with the Conservatives.

The Deputy Prime Minster said it would be a "disaster" if the party split under the pressure to support a Tory government in another hung parliament.

His comments came as another clutch of opinion polls showed the Conservatives and Labour vying almost neck-and-neck with neither likely to be able to form a majority government after the election on Thursday.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Mr Clegg said that in such circumstances there would be a "strong sense of national duty" for his party to act in the interest of the country as a whole.

But he made clear that did not mean joining the Conservatives in a second coalition at any price - even if they were the most obvious option on the table.

"When we're subjected to a great deal of pressure, as I've discovered all parties do going into a coalition - what happened then was that previous Liberal parties split and that's when pressure turned into disaster," he said.

"And every single day of my leadership I have always said the one thing I will never, ever do as a leader is allow my party to split ... I would never have the party go into a coalition government against its own collective will.

"I will not go against the collective will of my party. You can't weather all the pressures, you can't hang tough, you can't stay the course unless you've taken a collective decision.

"At all levels of the party, including the leader, there is wariness, of course there is."

His comments come amid reports of deep misgivings among many Lib Dems over the prospect of a second pact with the Tories - particularly as David Cameron is committed to a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union which they bitterly oppose.

Mr Clegg acknowledged the party had paid a high price for joining the Conservatives in government after the last general election in 2010 but said that did not mean there should be a "fatwa" against future coalitions.

"I'm really proud of what we've done but it's come at some cost. We've lost councillors, dear old friends of mine who've lost their seats through no fault of their own. I'm not some rogue, I'm a human being," he said.

"Of course you are wary, but in the end I would say to you don't under-estimate the strong sense of national duty the Liberal Democrats have to do the right thing for the country if there's no clear majority.

"So wariness, yes, which is a good thing, but we're not going to impose a fatwa against a coalition because we believe in plural politics. It doesn't mean we should always be in coalition, we should never, ever, as a party seek or long for power for our sake, of course not."

Mr Cameron is to kick off a final push to election day with a direct appeal for Lib Dem and Ukip supporters to vote tactically to keep Ed Miliband and the SNP out of Downing St.

The Prime Minister will use a speech in Warwickshire to warn that a vote for Ukip was the "back door" to a Labour government while the Lib Dems could just as easily support a Labour government propped up by the SNP.

"That is the road to ruin. It would be a calamity for our country, for you and your family," he will say.

In the latest opinion polls, ComRes for The Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror puts Labour and the Conservatives level pegging on 33% with Ukip on 13%, the Lib Dems on 8% and the Greens on 7%.

Opinium for The Observer also has the two biggest parties almost neck-and-neck with the Tories on 35% and Labour on 34% with Ukip on 13%, the Lib Dems down on 8% and the Greens on 5%.

In the The Sunday Times, YouGov has the Tories on 34%, Labour on 33%, Ukip on 13%, the Liberal Democrats on 8% and the Greens on 5%.

Survation in The Mail On Sunday has Labour on 34%, three points ahead of the Conservatives on 31% with Ukip on 17%, the Lib Dems 8% and the Greens 4%.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Labour wanted to govern for the whole country after May's election, repeating Labour's pledge of no deal with the SNP.

She said: "We cannot do coalitions, deals or pacts with the SNP - there is a reason for that.

"It will be up to other parties to decide how they vote on a Labour programme, that is for them to decide.

"We are not going to have deals or pacts about what is in a Labour programme, about what the content would be of a Labour Queen's Speech, with the SNP. I don't think that's the right thing to do.

"In the end, they want still to divide Britain. They have a different ethos, a different purpose of being.

"We want to govern the whole country for the whole country."

Ms Cooper said Labour would vote against any Queen's Speech tabled by Mr Cameron as a minority prime minister.

"It's clear David Cameron will be desperately trying to cling on to Number 10," she said.

Mr Clegg was repeatedly pressed over what he would do should the Tories demand an in/out EU referendum in 2017 as part of a future coalition.

He said the Tories "constantly flip and flop" over the issue, telling the Andrew Marr Show on BBC One: "You ask me the question the wrong way round. I would be saying, I have said to the British people, the Liberal Democrats will not enter into government unless the NHS gets the £8 billion it needs."

When Mr Marr told Mr Clegg he wanted to "nail down" an answer, the Lib Dem leader added: "You are genuinely, if I may say, putting it back to front."

Mr Clegg denied he was seeking to avoid the question and was challenged again to reveal if he would say yes or no to a Tory request for having a referendum in 2017.

He replied: "Before I address anyone else's red lines I would address mine. This is the point, with respect, I think you get the wrong way round."

On claims by former No 10 adviser James O'Shaughnessy that he was "talking crap" on tuition fees and he was keen for the tuition fee increase, Mr Clegg said: "I don't even know who this chap is and he certainly wasn't in the room, I tell you.

"(Business Secretary) Vince Cable and I and the Liberal Democrats struggled with this for a great period of time.

"We were between a rock and a hard place. Why? Because as you know, fees had been introduced - I know they want to airbrush this out of the record - by the Labour Party. It was the Labour Party who increased fees, it was the Labour Party that commissioned the report by Lord Browne.

"Never mind a £9,000 limit, Lord Browne - the report commissioned by the Labour Party, endorsed by the Conservatives - said there should be no upper limit whatsoever and then to add insult to injury the Labour Party basically left no money at all so clearly something had to give."

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