U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg attacked his coalition partner, David Cameron, arguing that the prime minister’s Conservative Party is too extreme to be allowed to govern alone.
In an indication of how he intends to position his Liberal Democrats in the runup to the 2015 election, Clegg told party activists at their annual conference in Glasgow, Scotland, this evening that his intervention had stopped the Tories from removing employment protections.
“The Conservatives have a bizarre idea that to create more jobs you need to increase insecurity,” Clegg said. “They are the party of fire at will. Without us, job security would have been a thing of the past, with employers able to get rid of staff on a whim.”
Support for the Liberal Democrats has collapsed since they went into government with the Tories in 2010. Opinion polls show only 10 percent of voters back the party. That’s less than half what they got at the 2010 election and puts the Liberal Democrats behind the anti-European Union, anti-immigration U.K. Independence Party.
Clegg also confirmed that the government will introduce a charge of 5 pence (8 U.S. cents) for plastic shopping bags starting in 2015, in an effort to reduce waste and litter.
The Liberal Democrats have concluded from their own internal polling that 75 percent of the electorate will not vote for it and it is concentrating its message on the 25 percent who have said they might, according to a party official who declined to be identified.
Matthew Oakeshott, a Liberal Democrat lawmaker in the House of Lords, called on Sept. 12 for Clegg to step down. In an interview in the House magazine, he said that unless there is a change of leader, the Liberal Democrats could have just 20 lawmakers after 2015, down from 55 today.
That came less than a week after a former education minister, Sarah Teather, said she was quitting as a Liberal Democrat lawmaker because the coalition government’s policies on welfare and immigration made her “catastrophically depressed.”
Teather announced she is quitting the House of Commons at the next election because she no longer feels Clegg’s party fights enough for social justice and a liberal immigration policy. She said “something broke” inside her when her party backed a cap on the amount of welfare a household can claim.
The party’s president, Tim Farron, echoed Clegg’s anti-Conservative line in a speech to the conference earlier today, saying that “the Tories exist to promote the interests of the richest inhabitants of the square mile of the City of London.”
Clegg told activists they should be proud of the party’s record in government and hold their course now that the economy is starting to improve.
“We can tell people how we took the right decisions in government to make sure interest rates were kept down and to protect people from the economic crises we have seen elsewhere in Europe,” Clegg said. “This is a great party and in a short space of time we have achieved great things.”
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