Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Clegg Draws Up Battle Lines with Tories and Opens Door to Labour

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Clegg Draws Up Battle Lines with Tories and Opens Door to Labour

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Murphy and Nicholas Cecil in Brighton

NICK CLEGG set out new battle lines with the Conservatives over tax, growth and green energy today -- and opened the door to a future coalition with Ed Miliband.

In his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat conference, he planned to lay down sharp differences over policy between him and David Cameron, setting the scene for bruising wrangles with Chancellor George Osborne.

And he made clear that he was equally prepared to share power with Labour after 2015, saying: "In a democracy, politicians take their orders from the voters."

In key passages of his draft speech, seen by the Standard ahead of this afternoon's address in Brighton, he accused the Chancellor of being "shortsighted" for seeing a choice between "going green and going for growth".

Mr Clegg quipped at David Cameron's expense: "To make blue go green you have to add yellow."

Tax rises on "the richest" must come before any further squeeze on welfare payments and the poor, he ruled. And his party stood ready "again and again" to force the Tories to add Budget measures to stimulate demand and encourage growth. Moreover, his party will refuse to sign up to a full four-year spending programme next year which would "tether" them to a Lib-Con ceiling over the next parliament. Mr Clegg's overarching themes were designed to send Lib-Dems home proud that they had played a historic role in pulling the country "back from the brink" of an economic disaster, and that the party would be vital in defending the poor through austerity.

A doom-laden series of warnings about the economy was at the heart of the speech, which drew inspiration from Britain's Olympic triumph and the response to last year's London riots.

ENVIRONMENT Mr Clegg reserved his most stinging criticism of the Tories for their stance on the "green economy", and vowed not to let them backtrack over plans for new wind farms and other environmentally friendly schemes.

He said: "Of course, there was a time when it looked like they got it ... It seems a long time ago now ... When the Tories were going through their naturalist phase, the windmills gently turning; the sun shining in. As a PR exercise, it was actually quite brilliant." But he said he would hold Mr Cameron to his promises: "Decarbonising our economy isn't just the right thing to do; it's a fantastic economic opportunity."

ECONOMY Vowing to press the Tories to boost industry, he said: "We have taken big and bold steps to support demand and boost growth. And we stand ready to do so again and again and again until self-sustaining growth returns."

On tax, he ruled out any further cut to the 45p top rate in this parliament. And he insisted that although "further belt tightening" was inescapable, it must be the rich who are hit first: "Our position is clear. …

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