Nick Clegg urges UK to reject 'politics of fear'

Liberal Democrat leader warns British politics is becoming increasingly bitter and tribal but says his party stands for "decent, British values"

REUTERS/Russell Cheyne Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg urged voters not to give in to “the politics of fear” as he defended his record as part of a the Coalition government.

Mr Clegg hit out at what he called a growing tribalism in politics, warning there was an increasing tendency to blame immigrants, foreigners - and even on-shore windfarms - for the nation’s problems.

In his keynote speech to the party’s conference in Glasgow, Mr Clegg set out his priorities for the period after the next General Election.

The issues highlighted, including tax cuts and improvements to mental health services, are likely to become the price for Lib Dem support in any future coalition government.

Mr Clegg hit out at anti-European Union party UKIP, led by Nigel Farage, and Scottish Nationalists such as Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond who campaigned to break up the UK.

But he extended his criticism to include even opponents of on-shore wind farms, saying: “Something very un-British is taking root in our politics. A growing movement of people who want to pull us apart.

“Salmond, Farage, the bitter tribalism of left and right – in their different ways they’re all doing the same thing. A growing pick-a-side politics, in a world of us-versus-them.

“Worried about your job? Your business? Your children’s future? Your way of life? No matter, just blame Europe, Brussels, foreigners, immigrants, the English, the South, professional politicians, Westminster, big business, anybody claiming benefits, even onshore wind farms.

“Life is so simple when you know who – or what – to blame. It’s seductive and it’s beguiling.”

He predicted UKIP could win a by-election in Clacton, Essex, caused by the decision of local Conservative MP Douglas Carswell to defect to UKIP.

“But resentment, the politics of fear, doesn’t pay the bills or create a single job.”

Mr Clegg set out his party’s priorities for the period after the next election, saying: “while I’m not going to get dragged into endless speculation about this or that red line in the event of another hung parliament – people do have a right to know what our priorities are.”

They included:

* Expanding childcare to all two, three and four year-olds and helping with the travel costs faced by all college students

* A commitment to five “green laws” that will commit British governments to reducing carbon from the electricity sector, creating new, legal targets for clean air and water, giving everyone access to green space, increasing energy efficiency, encouraging use of low-emission cars and bringing an end to the use of dirty coal

* Raising the point at which workers start paying income tax to £12,500

* Giving mental health services the same priority as physical health services and increasing NHS spending by £1 billion each year, funded by ending tax breaks which benefit the highest earners.

Mr Clegg highlighted Liberal Democrat successes as part of the Coalition government, including raising the income tax threshold to £10,500, providing free support to two year olds across the country, tax free childcare and free school meals for infants.

He said his party was committed to “eliminating the deficit in the first three years of the next parliament, and then bringing debt down steadily and sustainably”, but pledged: “We’ll cut less than the Tories.”

Asking for support in next year’s general election, he said: “In seven months the people of this country will need to make a choice. You can pick a Labour party which has learnt no lessons from the past and which – left to its own devices – will jeopardise the economy all over again.

“You can pick a Conservative party which doesn’t share your values and which – left to its own devices – will make poor people poorer while it keeps cutting away at the services everybody needs.”

Mr Clegg added: “It is left to our party, to us, to work our hearts out each and every day to give the people of Britain a stronger economy and a fairer society.

“We will do everything we can to ensure you and your family have the opportunities to get on. In that Britain we can defeat the politics of blame and grievance and fear. And we have seven short months to tell people, to show people: there is still a party that speaks to the decent, British values they hold.”

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