Clegg: We'll keep UK on right track
Nick Clegg has made a deeply personal pitch to be returned to office in the next general election, as he claimed that Liberal Democrat values were needed to keep Britain "on the right track".
Setting out the message that will drive his campaign for the 2015 poll, little more than 18 months away, Mr Clegg told the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow that only their party can "finish the job of economic recovery, but finish it fairly". But he told delegates in his keynote speech that it was right for voters to judge him, not only by his record in power, but also by his "values, character and background".
Watched by wife Miriam, the Deputy Prime Minister - who has previously tried to keep his family out of the spotlight - drew on his experiences as a son, husband and father to explain "who I am, why I'm a Liberal Democrat and why I'm standing here today". And in a tantalising hint about his future intentions, he reminded delegates that "I won't be in politics forever", and that he has another life with his family and away from politics.
Despite an ITV News poll which suggested that 67% of voters do not want another coalition, Mr Clegg also warned that a return to single-party government would be the "absolute worst" outcome of the 2015 poll.
Claiming credit for restraining the more right-wing instincts of his Tory coalition partners, Mr Clegg said Lib Dems have waged an "endless battle" in Government, fighting "tooth and nail" to block policies which they found unacceptable, such as inheritance tax cuts, "fire at will" employment laws, regional pay for the public sector and ditching the Human Rights Act.
"What do you think Britain would look like today if the Tories had been alone in Whitehall for the last three years?" he asked. "What would have happened without Liberal Democrats in this Government? People do need to know how coalition operates and what we do day in day out inside Government." Although he and Prime Minister David Cameron "try and seek compromise", he said, "sometimes compromise and agreement isn't possible and you just have to say No".
As well as reeling off a list of Conservative ambitions which Lib Dems had thwarted, Mr Clegg said the party should feel "proud" of the priorities which it had implemented, such as lifting earnings under £10,000 out of income tax, gay marriage, the pupil premium for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, pension reform, the cap on the cost of social care, free childcare, extra parental leave and the £600 million promise of free lunches for children at infant school which was announced on Tuesday.
But the most eye-catching sections of Mr Clegg's speech dealt with the way his background shaped his political beliefs. He acknowledged he had a "privileged" Home Counties upbringing, with education at private school and Cambridge. But he said that his Dutch mother, who spent some of her childhood in a prisoner-of-war camp, and half-Russian father, whose family fled the Revolution, had always taught him that "everyone deserves a chance because everyone's fortunes can change, often through no fault of their own".
He recalled how he was turned off politics as a young person in the 1970s and 1980s by the spectacle of "an incompetent Labour Government... replaced by a heartless Conservative Government" and by the "constant diet of aggressive them-and-us politics" featuring "angry, shouty" Labour politicians and "insular, petty, polarised" Tories. Mr Clegg described how he was moved by the "sense of optimism and hope" after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and inspired to enter politics by an encounter with former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown while working at the European Commission.
"This was the first time I'd seen a British politician talking with passion and conviction and without defensiveness or fear about the challenges in the world and the leadership Britain needed to show," he said. "The Liberal Democrats seemed so outward looking and forward looking, compared to the tired, old, introverted politics of Labour and the Conservatives. For me, that was it. That's how I found our party. So I know what it is like to look at the old parties and want more - to want a party that speaks for big, enduring values. And what the Liberal Democrats gave me 20 years ago, showing me there was something better than the tired choice between Labour and the Conservatives, is something I want us to give to people across Britain today."