The Liberal Democrats would create five new “green” laws, oppose any further implementation of communications data controls, and work for parity of esteem for mental health, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg said in his speech yesterday.
He declared that the UK would not be intimidated or divided by the actions of ISIS, and stressed the unity of the British people in the struggle against the organisation. He also paid tribute to the armed forces.
Moving on, Mr Clegg hailed the “momentous” result of the Scottish Independence referendum, but argued that it had revealed a growing “bitter tribalism” in British politics. It was “seductive” and “beguiling” but ultimately unhelpful to pursue “the politics of fear”, he argued.
While “dressed up in the politics of hope”, such divisive movements were in fact “a counsel of despair”, he argued.
Connecting this to his appearance in a televised debate with UKIP Leader Nigel Farage, Mr Clegg said that he had done this “for the same reason this party must now come out fighting”.
“Someone has to stand up for the liberal Britain in which we and millions of decent, reasonable people believe”, he declared. He accused Labour and the Conservatives of failing to defend these values.
Acknowledging anger and challenges directed at the “political class”, he said that politicians were guilty of exaggerating what they were capable of. Mr Clegg pledged that he himself would “never, ever make that mistake again”.
He highlighted the Liberal Democrats’ record on raising the Income Tax threshold to underline his commitment to increasing it further, and also pointed to achievements and plans in areas such as apprenticeships, childcare, free school meals and balancing the nation’s budget.
“The Liberal Democrats will borrow less than Labour, but we’ll cut less than the Tories”, he pledged.
He stressed his party’s commitment to both economic restraint and the environment, commenting in reference to language attributed to the Prime Minister – “it’s not ‘green crap’ to us”.
The Liberal Democrats had a “credible” plan and had “learned from our mistakes”, he declared, stressing that it had “delivered on” the front-page commitments of its previous manifesto, including changes to pensions, early years education, parental leave and renewable energy, and the institution of same sex marriage.
He urged voters to judge the party by these achievements, rather than “by the one policy we couldn’t deliver in government”.
He accused Labour Leader Ed Miliband of “promising a new Nirvana”, and attacked the party’s record on the economy and immigration. Meanwhile, he attacked the Conservatives for dropping their immigration commitment, failing swiftly to implement border controls, attempting to scrap human rights and indicating that they were “prepared to jeopardise Britain’s membership of the EU”.
He further accused his Coalition partners of singling out the working-age poor to “bear the brunt of the final years of deficit reduction”, without calling upon the rich to contribute. He argued that Conservative plans would inevitably lead to drastic cuts in public services such as social care, policing and education.
The Liberal Democrats stood for “a different kind of politics”, which “[treated] people like adults” by refusing to champion easy but ultimately false solutions, he claimed. He said that his party wanted to offer people opportunity.
While the Government could not solve all one’s problems, it could “strive to level the playing field” and help people to “get on”, he said. He argued that this could defuse the anger people felt when they experienced “powerlessness”. “Give people hope and they turn their backs on fear”, he argued.
Labour and the Conservatives could not provide both a stronger economy and a fairer society, Mr Clegg said.
He said that it was vital to offer people power over their lives, and highlighted continued Liberal Democrat opposition to the Communications Data Bill, which he said was “disproportionate” and “disempowering”.
Addressing Home Secretary Theresa May directly, he said: “Stop playing party politics with national security”.
He also attacked the Conservatives over their refusal to countenance Lords reform or a Mansion Tax, describing the latter position as an “act of brazen self-interest”. Furthermore, the Conservatives were “trying to impose an entirely self-serving system of Tory votes for English laws on the House of Commons” following the Scottish Independence Referendum, he said.
Meanwhile, he added, Labour was “ignoring the problem altogether”.
He hailed the possibilities offered by devolution, and said that he wanted to build upon Coalition reforms to go beyond “tawdry Westminster politics”. He would “keep hammering away at the system” in this regard, he pledged.
On education, he attacked former Education Secretary Michael Gove for “[raiding] the budget for much-needed school places in order to fund his Free School obsession”, and attacked the “frenzied bile” and “dated snobbery” with which he said Liberal Democrat plans for free school meals, vocational qualifications and good-quality careers advice had been met.
Education had produced the “most revealing” “fault-line” within the Coalition, said Mr Clegg, highlighting how Conservatives had “sought to suffocate” initiatives aimed at increasing opportunities at an early age.
He stressed the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to expanding childcare and free school lunches, as well as the party’s new pledges on travel costs for college students, qualified teacher status and funding protection “from cradle to college”.
He hailed the Pupil Premium as a policy that had been warmly welcomed by teachers.
Moving on, Mr Clegg announced that the Liberal Democrats’ next manifesto would contain a new commitment to “five green laws”, which would commit British Governments to reducing carbon in the electricity sector; creating new legal targets for clean air and water; offering access to green space for all; boosting energy efficiency and renewables; prioritising green vehicles; and ending the use of “dirty coal”.
He said that this showed the party’s commitment to opportunity for coming generations.
Declining to engage with speculation about “red line” issues “in the event of another hung parliament”, he said that Liberal Democrats also wanted to raise the Income Tax threshold to £12,500.
Increasing this threshold represented “a tax cut for the many”, he declared, explaining that his party had set out how it could be achieved fairly, in contrast to what he said were “unfunded, unfair Tory tax cuts”.
Furthermore, Mr Clegg said that he was passionate about mental health, and the question of parity of esteem within the NHS.
While the mental health offering and legal footing had been boosted, there was “still a long way to go”, he said.
He argued that Britons needed to become comfortable talking publicly their mental health difficulties.
The Deputy Prime Minister announced that for the first time, national waiting times would be introduced for patients experiencing mental health conditions. Patients would be seen within six weeks, or 18 “at an absolute maximum”, he promised, emphasising that this would take place on the same basis as treatment for more tangible conditions.
The Liberal Democrats were committed to overhauling mental health services to end discrimination “for good”, he said, stressing the importance this would be accorded within the party’s next manifesto. He wanted to see an “open” and “compassionate” UK, he said.
He also argued that the party was the only one to have set out a credible plan for funding the NHS, which would protect its budget in real terms and raise an extra £1bn per annum via the scrapping of three tax breaks for high earners, including the “ludicrous” “shares for rights” initiative.
Mr Clegg rejected what he said was the reductive “[caricaturing]” of the achievements of the Coalition, stressing the Liberal Democrats’ contributions to improving the UK economy.
He predicted that the UK would have more coalitions in future, though the partners in such administrations must be prepared to talk about their disagreements.
“I’m immensely proud of what we’ve achieved and I don’t want the Tories claiming all the credit for everything we’ve done”, he said.
He argued that coalitions could undermine the “soulless pendulum swing” of a two-party system and undermine claims that only single-party Governments worked for the UK.
Accusing Labour of failing to learn from the past and the Conservatives of aiming to “make people poorer” while cutting services, Mr Clegg said that the Liberal Democrats remained a party that spoke to “decent British values” and would “do everything in our power to help you shine”.