Clegg tries to reclaim capitalism debate with ‘liberal’ solution

By Ian Dunt

Nick Clegg tried to reclaim the debate over the future of British capitalism this morning, with a demand for workers to be better rewarded when their companies do well.

The Liberal Democrat leader has been increasingly pushed to the sidelines recently as David Cameron and Ed Miliband trade blows over 'responsible' capitalism.

Yesterday, Mr Miliband said his autumn conference speech, in which he distinguished between 'predator' and 'producer' companies, had fundamentally altered the rhetoric around the issue.

Mr Clegg began his speech this morning promising not to treat capitalism as a "punch bag" and saying he would not take "cheap shots" at big business.

But the deputy prime minister is expected to call for workers to be given the right to request shares in the companies they work for, in what he will describe as the 'John Lewis' economy.

"John Stuart Mill hoped that employee-owned firms could end what he called the 'standing feud between capital and labour'," he said.

"Liberals have been championing it ever since. We don't believe our problem is too much capitalism: we think it's that too few people have capital. We need more individuals to have a real stake in their firms."

His efforts to outline a liberal diagnosis of the crisis in capitalism will be interpreted as another attempt to make sure Liberal Democrat voices are not drowned out in the debate between Mr Miliband and Mr Cameron.

Mr Clegg said he supported trade unions but criticised Labour's over-reliance on the organisations as proof they have become an "instrument to project, defend, promote.. a vested interest".