Knives out for Clegg as leaders’ debate approaches

By Ian Dunt

The Lib Dems have hit back at what they say is a concerted smear attempt to smear them as the third leaders’ debate approaches.

The Daily Telegraph, Express, Mail and Sun all attacked Nick Clegg on their front pages today.

As-it-happens: Leaders’ debate build-up and commentary

The Telegraph claimed three donors paid up to £250 per month into his private bank account in 2006, before he became Lib Dem leader.

The party said the accusation was a smear and the money was “properly given, accounted for and declared”.

“Any suggestions of wrongdoing on my part are totally out of order,” Mr Clegg said this morning.

“I received money from three friends, properly given, properly received, properly declared, properly used to pay for part of the salary of a member of my staff. Any suggestion I did anything wrong is out of order and I’m going to publish the figures to prove it.

“There are a lot of people who want to stop change, of course. I think I must be the first politician who’s gone from being Churchill to being a Nazi in a week. But I hope this time people will trust their instincts, to do something different this time.”

In the early evening, the Lib dems emailed what appeared to be proof that the Telegraph story was without merit. One document showed the disclosure of the payments from the three men.

A second document showed the money being paid out in six seperate payments over the course of 2006, seemingly substantiating mr Clegg’s denial.

The Mail attacked Mr Clegg for comments he made concerning World War Two.

Clegg attacked over WW2 comments

The paper highlighted an article he wrote while at the European parliament, in which he said: Britain had taken on a “misplaced sense of superiority, sustained by delusions of grandeur and a tenacious obsession with the last war,” since 1945.

Speaking earlier today, Peter Mandelson called the news stories attacking Mr Clegg “cheap and rather squalid”.

Lib Dem officials have been startled by the full-blooded attacks against them from the British press, but they are also convinced the campaign reflects a growing unease among part of the right wing press about the Liberal Democrats’ hugely improved performance since the last debate.

Mr Clegg now leads the Tories and Labour in many polls, and is second in most of the others.

But analysts will be watching tonight’s debate, on Sky News at 20:00 BST, closely to find out whether he can maintain the momentum since the last performance.

Leaders prepare for second TV debate

The debate, on foreign affairs, allows Mr Clegg to highlight his opposition to the Iraq war and critical support in Afghanistan.

But there are concerns about the popularity of two of his foreign policy principles – the opposition to renewing Trident and his support for the European Union.

Former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown told he wanted to see Mr Clegg adopt a “visionary” role.

Ashdown’s advice to Clegg