The all-new left-wing Nick Clegg?
By Charles Maggs and Ian Dunt
Nick Clegg took a decisive swerve to the left today, as he opened the Liberal Democrat conference with an attack on Labour's approach to the banks and Tory backbenchers approach to coalition.
Just days after his online apology for breaking his promise on tuition fees, Clegg announced he would be putting the resolutely anti-nuclear Danny Alexander in charge of the Trident review – a move which is sure to horrify Tory right-wingers.
"Danny has spoken out repeatedly about how expensive and unnecessary a like-for-like replacement would be," Clegg said at a speech to open the Liberal Democrat conference.
"I am more determined than ever to find the right alternative to such a monumentally expensive replacement for a Cold War deterrent."
The deputy prime minister then attacked Labour from the left, with a harsh appraisal of the party's lenient attitude towards bank regulation and the Iraq war, which the Liberal Democrats opposed.
"Labour have had a lot of fun at my expense in recent days because of the apology I made," he said.
"There are some pretty big things I think people would like to hear them apologise for. How about a personal apology from you, Ed Balls, for nearly bankrupting the country after you went on a prawn cocktail charm offensive in the City of London to let the banks off the hook?
"And how about, Ed Miliband, an apology, on behalf of your party, for dragging our country into an unjust and illegal war in Iraq?"
The Lib Dem leader then launched into a bruising attack on Tory backbenchers, who regularly taunt him in the Commons and sabotaged coalition plans for an 80% elected House of Lords.
"My message to those Conservative backbench MPs who seem to think they have the right to force a turbo-charged right-wing agenda on our country is this: you didn't win the last election," he said.
"You do not have a majority. The British people have not given you the right to act like you do."
Promising 'fairer taxes in tough times', Clegg then promised a more redistributive tax policy to counteract criticism of George Osborne's approach at the Treasury.
"It’s just wrong that people on low and middle incomes who work hard and play by the rules are taxed so much while Russian oligarchs pay the same council tax as some people do on a family home," he said.
"It is no secret that we have different priorities to our coalition partners. I can do my bit around the Cabinet table, but most of the seats at that table are occupied by Conservatives, not Liberal Democrats."
Most Liberal Democrat members are decidedly to the left of Clegg and the 'Orange Book' free market liberals in the party, so the shift in rhetoric could be an effort to placate the party as it contemplates its declining poll ratings.
But the video apology he filmed and the decision to give Alexander control over the Trident review suggests Clegg now intends to drive forward a more left-wing agenda in a bid to salvage some of his core support before the next election.
The latest Ipsos MORI polling puts the Lib Dems on an impressive 13%, well above their usual 10% performance.