A return to single-party government after five years of coalition would mean “squandering” the sacrifices made in the period of austerity, the Liberal Democrat leader warned at the start of his party’s annual conference in Glasgow.
A majority Labour government would “wreck” the recovery, he said bluntly, while a Conservative-only administration would deliver “the wrong kind of recovery” by allowing the proceeds of growth to go to the rich.
He made clear that the Lib Dem 2015 manifesto will be explicitly written with post-election negotiations in mind – identifying the policies which they are ready to “die in the trenches” for, as well as others which are open to compromise in coalition talks. Other parties, he added, should do the same.
“Our message to the British people in 2015 will be essentially this – we will say ‘We’ve done very good things in Government – let us finish the job, but finish the job fairly’,” Mr Clegg said.
“It is my genuine belief that if we go back to the bad old days – not of coalition or balanced politics, but of either the left or the right dominating Government on their own – you will get a recovery which is neither fair nor sustainable.
“I think Labour would wreck the recovery, and under the Conservatives – who don’t have the same commitment to fairness which we do – you would get the wrong kind of recovery.”
One red line for any negotiations is almost certain to be measures to take anyone earning the minimum wage out of income tax, by raising thresholds to around £12,500 – something Mr Clegg said would be a “signature tune” of the Lib Dem campaign.
He hinted that the Lib Dems’ cherished “mansion tax” on residential properties worth over £2m was also like to feature, though he insisted final decisions will not be taken until nearer the election.
Despite going into conference with his party trailing at nine per cent in the opinion polls, Mr Clegg was bullish about the prospects of retaining a share of power in a hung Parliament after the general election.
Coalition was “much better than either the left or the right messing things up on their own all over again”, he said.
Mr Clegg said there had been no discussions with Tories about continuing their coalition, insisting that talks with either major party must wait until the electorate has had its say.
He appeared to indicate that – as in 2010 – he would speak to the largest party first, stating that whoever gained the “clearest mandate, the most votes and the most seats” in a hung Parliament had the democratic right to attempt to form a government.
Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman dismissed his words, however, stating: “The truth is that he has broken his promises, and backed the Tories all the way.”