The leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats, kingmakers at the 2010 election, said on Sunday (5 October) that they would refuse to form another coalition with Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party if it insists on pulling the country out of the European Court of Human Rights. The comments from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg are the latest example of strains emerging in the more than four-year-old coalition as the two parties seek to differentiate themselves ahead of a national vote in seven months.
Last week, Cameron’s Conservative party toughened its stance on Europe, announcing a pre-election plan to quit the European Court of Human Rights unless it agrees that Britain’s parliament has the final say over its rulings.
Cameron, who is seeking to counter a growing threat from the anti-European Union UK Independence Party (UKIP) in May’s national election, has said rulings by the European rights court have prevented Britain deporting suspected militants.
Clegg said his party would “absolutely not” be part of a government which took Britain out of the human rights court.
“Trashing human rights basically in order to cater for or to go after UKIP votes is a legally illiterate thing to do, and is not in keeping with fine British tradition,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show during an interview at his party’s annual conference in Glasgow.
The Liberal Democrats have been in coalition with the Conservatives since an inconclusive election in 2010. With opinion polls suggesting next year’s vote will be a close fight between the Conservatives and the opposition Labour party, Clegg’s party could again hold the balance of power.
Earlier this week, Clegg said coalition relations had hit a new low after comments by Conservative Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May that his party had put lives in danger by blocking a Communications Data bill last year which would have granted far-reaching surveillance powers.
Clegg also said on Sunday that his party would not back plans by the Conservatives to freeze working-age welfare payments for two years.
“Of course the Liberal Democrats are not going to enter into government with an economic agenda which the Conservatives have announced … which would only penalise the working-age poor. It is anathema to everything we believe in,” he said.
In a bid to bolster support for his party, languishing fourth in opinion polls, Clegg has taken to warning voters of the risks of returning either a majority Conservative or Labour government, saying his centrist party would “restrain” the extremes of left and right.
At a rally on Saturday night, he cast the Conservatives as stuck between their former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, whose time in power was marked by her crushing of strike-prone trade unions, and UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who wants to drastically curb immigration and pull Britain out of the European Union.
“Imagine again what it will be like in 2020, but this time with the Conservatives in government on their own,” he said.
“A (Conservative) party leadership in hock to their right wing, desperately running after and pandering to UKIP’s ugly nationalism. A prime minister trapped between being a poor man’s Margaret Thatcher and a rich man’s Nigel Farage.”
Poll predicts further losses for UK PM Cameron at hands of UKIP
Meanwhile, a poll released on Sunday shows that Conservatives are likely to suffer a second embarrassing defeat by the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) at a special election triggered by a defecting lawmaker.
Former Conservative lawmaker Mark Reckless stole the headlines on the first day of Cameron’s annual conference last week by defecting to UKIP, which campaigns for a withdrawal from the European Union and tighter immigration controls.
The first set of local polling in Reckless’s constituency since his defection puts UKIP on 40 percent, a nine percentage point lead over Cameron’s party, which is forecast to take 31 percent of the vote by pollster Survation. A date for the by-election has not yet been set.
Reckless was the second member of parliament to defect to UKIP in recent weeks, showing the potential for a shift in right-leaning voters that could damage Cameron’s chances of winning the 2015 election outright.
The two defections have triggered by-elections that could give UKIP its first directly elected seats in parliament. The party already holds three seats in the unelected upper house.
Douglas Carswell, the first to defect, is expected to beat the Conservatives when his Clacton-On-Sea constituency votes on Oct 9.
Both defectors have cited doubts about whether Cameron will deliver on a pledge to give Britons a referendum on EU membership by 2017 if he is re-elected.