Nick Clegg comes out fighting against Ukip and the ‘politics of fear’
Nick Clegg came out fighting against Ukip today with a scathing attack on Nigel Farage's party for engaging in "the politics of fear".
With polls suggesting that Ukip could replace the Lib Dems as the third party of British politics, Clegg devoted much of his conference speech to attacking Nigel Farage for playing on "un-British" fears.
"Something very un-British is taking root in our politics," he told his party conference in Glasgow.
"A growing movement of people who want to pull us apart. Salmond, Farage, the bitter tribalism of left and right – in their different ways they're all doing the same thing. A growing pick-a-side politics, in a world of us-versus-them."
He urged voters not to be seduced by the "false comfort of grievance" represented by Ukip.
"Life is so simple when you know who – or what – to blame. It's seductive and it's beguiling.
"That much may even be proved tomorrow, if the people of Clacton give the UK Independence Party an MP.
"But resentment, the politics of fear, doesn't pay the bills or create a single job. Claiming to address people's acute anxiety about the modern world, it provides nothing but the false comfort of grievance. Dressed up as the politics of hope, it is in fact a counsel of despair."
He defended his widely ridiculed decision to take part in a series of debates with Nigel Farage in the run up to the European elections.
"Why do you think I took on Nigel Farage in the TV debates at the European elections?
"Because I thought it would be easy? Me defending Britain's membership of the EU, him bashing Brussels. No, I did it for the same reason this party must now come out fighting: Because someone has to stand up for the liberal Britain in which we and millions of decent, reasonable people believe. For tolerance, compassion, openness, unity – the values this party holds so dear."
He also devoted much of his speech to attacking Labour and the Tories who he accused of engaging in "tawdry Westminster politics".
Clegg accused his coalition partners of joining Ukip in the belief that "every worry can be fixed with a big wave of the Union Jack."
"David Cameron and George Osborne, meanwhile, say don’t worry: immigration can be slashed, human rights redrawn, taxes lowered, the NHS protected, and we can have all the benefits of being in Europe while opting out of the bits we don’t like. Every worry can be fixed with a big wave of the Union Jack."
He suggested that only the Lib Dems had the courage to stick to their principles in government.
"Say what they we will, we are now the only party holding firm to decent, liberal values while anger and blame are on the rise.
"The only party refusing to trade in fear because we believe what the British people want desperately from their politics is hope."
Nick Clegg also used his speech to put mental health at the centre of the Liberal Democrats' election campaign.
In a move that has been widely hailed by mental health campaigners, he promised to to introduce NHS waiting time targets for psychological conditions.
Under his plans, problems of the mind will be given equivalence to problems of the body, with waiting times reflecting the standards in physical treatment.
For instance, 75% of those referred for talking therapy due to depression or anxiety will be seen in six weeks, while 98% will be seen in 18 weeks.
At least 50% of people having their first psychotic episode will be seen in two weeks.
"If you are having a breakdown, if you are thinking of harming yourself, for any emergency which takes you to A&E, you'll get the help you need – just as if you'd gone to hospital with chest pains or following an accident," Clegg said.
"I want this to be a country where a young dad chatting at the school gates will feel as comfortable discussing anxiety or depression as the mum who’s explaining how she sprained her ankle," he added.
The deputy prime minister said the issue was close to his heart and reminded the audience that it was his first ever question at PMQs.
Officials have briefed that the policy will feature on the front page of the party's manifesto in 2015.
Some £40 million is being earmarked for mental health this year and £80 million the next as the Lib Dems unveil a five-year plan to give mental health problems equal weight to physical health in the NHS.
An additional £400 million will be put into talking therapy in the next parliament, under the Lib Dem plans.
Officials said the party had already consulted with organisations like the Royal College of Psychiatrists on the plans.
They are confident the introduction of waiting times will also provide much better data on how mental health is treated in England, by improving reporting rates.
As part of the changes the Lib Dems will announce plans to significantly improve funding of the NHS with an extra £1 billion being earmarked for the health service every year, funded by ending three different breaks.
Those include scrapping George Osborne's 'shares for rights' scheme, which the Lib Dems have dismissed as a gimmick.
Clegg's announcement was today warmly welcomed by Mental health campaigners.
"This is a watershed moment for everyone affected by mental illness and has the potential to improve the lives of millions. No one should have to wait months or even years for potentially life-changing treatment, just because they have a mental health problem rather than a physical one," Mark Winstanley, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness said.
"This is a significant step towards putting mental and physical health on an equal footing. Our supporters have been calling for transformational change which will help more people get support when they need it. Although we still have a long way to go before that becomes a reality, this is an important move in the right direction."