U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party “can’t be trusted with society,” his deputy, Nick Clegg, said as he drew battle lines for the 2015 general election.
The vote, which will see Clegg’s Liberal Democrats battling for seats against their Tory coalition partners as well as the opposition Labour Party, will be a “scarcity” election based on priorities for spending cuts, Clegg told reporters at a lunch in London today. All parties will have to accept that benefits for wealthy retirees will have to be trimmed, he said.
“It’s not going to be frothy and happy-go-lucky,” Clegg said. “We’re going to get a somber, gritty weighing-up of the options: a Labour Party you can’t trust with your money, a Conservative Party you can’t trust with society or the Liberal Democrats who you can trust with both.”
Clegg, whose party trails in opinion polls with around 9 percent support, is seeking to open dividing lines between the Liberal Democrats and Tories in a bid to gain ground lost since they formed a government in 2010 after inconclusive elections. As the party draws up policy, it’s working to avoid any repeat of the reversal of its pledge not to raise university tuition fees, a step that has cost it support since 2010, Clegg said.
“We think we are uniquely placed to both show toughness on the economy and compassion in society,” Clegg said. “We need to stress-test the deliverability of our policies like never before. We’re not going to make that mistake again.”
Benefits for retirees, including free travel passes and winter-fuel payments, will have to be restricted to those in the most need after 2015, Clegg said. Cameron has made maintaining those a hallmark of Tory policy in this Parliament.
“Any political party that goes into the next election pledging not to touch a hair on the head of benefits for the most affluent pensioners will be found out very quickly,” Clegg said. “The idea that you exempt millionaire and multimillionaire pensioners is not sustainable.”
Clegg, who praised a Jan. 8 speech on spending priorities by David Miliband, the brother of Labour leader Ed Miliband, said he’d be willing to work with whichever party wins the largest share of seats in the House of Commons after the election if another coalition is needed in 2015.
“You just deal with the cards dealt to you by the British people,” Clegg said. “The party that gets the biggest thumbs- up from the British people has the obvious democratic right to try to create a government first.”
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