Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg compared David Cameron with U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage and urged voters to choose his Liberal Democrats in Thursday’s election because of the stability they’ll provide to any new coalition government.
The Liberal Democrats won’t go into any government unless the party’s six “red lines,” ranging from increasing National Health Service spending to raising the starting point for paying income tax, are met by Prime Minister Cameron’s Conservatives or Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, Clegg said Monday. He declined to say whether he would agree to Cameron’s own red line, the holding of a referendum on the U.K.’s European Union membership.
“It’s rather striking that David Cameron and Nigel Farage have now become interchangeable,” Clegg said in an interview in London Monday, referring to the UKIP leader who is campaigning for Britain to leave the EU. “They’re telling the British people that what is more important than funding the NHS properly, what is more important than fair tax cuts, what is more important than balancing the books and doing so fairly” is the issue of EU membership.
Clegg is trying to stake out the center ground of British politics, with national polls showing neither the Tories nor Labour are set to win an outright majority in Parliament. While the Liberal Democrats face losing half or more of the 57 seats they won in the 2010 election, Clegg is portraying his party as being able to moderate Labour borrowing plans or Tory spending cuts in a new coalition.
“What mainstream British voters want is a government that will actually keep the economy stable and put money into public services,” Clegg said. “I think we’re going to do far better than the cottage industry of pessimistic punditry would suggest,” he said of the opinion polls.
Clegg also said that there have been no talks with either the Tories or Labour about terms of a post-election coalition agreement.
“What I’ve been very clear about is to spell out what are the commitments that we wouldn’t compromise on at all,” Clegg said. “There’s no footsie going on under the table.”
Red-line commitments outlined by the Liberal Democrats during the campaign also include protecting the education budget and raising pay in line with inflation for nurses, teachers and police officers starting in 2016.
Clegg said talks to form a new coalition are likely to take longer than in 2010, when he and Cameron reached an agreement within five days. At the same time, he said, he thinks it’ll still take a matter of days rather than weeks.
“There isn’t a sense of impending economic crisis which there was back in 2010, which really accelerated the talks,” he said. “We should be grown-up and treat it in a sensible way, but not rush ourselves.”
He spoke on the party’s battle bus as it shuttled between the Twickenham and Kingston & Surbiton constituencies of his fellow Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Energy Secretary Ed Davey. He then went on to two more of the party’s seven London constituencies, Sutton & Cheam and Carshalton & Wallington. All four southwest London seats are Tory targets.
There’s “no way” the Tories will win Cable’s seat, Clegg told party activists in Twickenham. He described Cable as a “towering legend of a man,” later calling Davey a “fantastic legend of a man” in Surbiton.
Clegg said the public face a “stark” choice between a minority Labour government propped up by the Scottish nationalists, who he said would borrow “recklessly,” or a “hapless” Conservative minority administration that would impose “harsh, hard-line ideological cuts” supported by the Northern Irish Democratic Unionists and UKIP.
“The Liberal Democrats are now the only guarantors of stability in British politics today,” Clegg said in Twickenham.