BBC News: Election 2010 BBC News

Page last updated at 03:47 GMT, Tuesday, 13 April 2010 04:47 UK

Clegg does not rule out Lib Dems joining any coalition

Paxman challenges Clegg on chances of being PM

Nick Clegg has refused to rule out the Liberal Democrats joining a coalition government - but said he would not back the Conservatives' spending cut plans.

Speaking to the BBC's Jeremy Paxman, he would not rule out joining a coalition under Gordon Brown or David Cameron.

If there was a hung parliament, he said "politicians will need to speak to each other to give the stable... reasoned, sane government that people deserve."

Mr Clegg added that the election was "wide open".

The Lib Dems are due to publish their manifesto on Wednesday.

'Responsible role'

If no political party ends up with an outright majority following the election, Mr Clegg said the one that got the most votes would have the "moral mandate" to try to form a government.

Of course I would vote against cuts which would destroy any chance we would have of having a sustainable recovery
Nick Clegg

Despite saying the Lib Dems would not support any major public sector spending cuts from a Conservative government, Mr Clegg would not be drawn on whether he favoured joining an administration led by either Labour or the Tories.

He said the Lib Dems would "play a responsible role in making sure that people get the kind of government that this country deserves".

Mr Clegg added that the Lib Dems would not put forward a "price" to join any coalition government.

Instead he said the party had four core "priorities" it would like to see taken forward - tax reform, increased school funding, splitting up the largest banks, and a "complete clean up of Westminster politics".

He added that this was "not a pick and mix menu" and a vote for the Lib Dems was "not a vote for anyone else".


Questioned about the need to tackle the public deficit, Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems recognised the need for "big, long-term decisions".

But he added: "Do I think that these big, big cuts are merited or justified at a time when the economy is struggling to get to its feet? Clearly not.

"Of course I would vote against cuts which would destroy any chance we would have of having a sustainable recovery."

Mr Clegg's comments were in response to Tory plans to hold an emergency budget within 50 days of coming to power as part of a programme to get the £167bn public deficit under control.

Nick Clegg promises a 'fair' tax system under the Lib Dems

Mr Clegg earlier announced that under a Liberal Democrat government the first £10,000 of UK earnings would be tax-free under a "radical overhaul" of the tax system.

He admitted in the BBC interview that this would not apply to the very rich, at the same time as people on middle incomes would benefit more than the least well off.

However, Mr Clegg said the estimated £1.5bn of extra money that the proposal would give people on the lowest wages would be a "serious break".

The Lib Dems say the policy would mean more than 3.5 million people not paying income tax.

Labour launched its manifesto on Monday, pledging not to increase income tax, or extend VAT to children's clothes or food.

The Conservatives plan to cancel some of the 1% rise in National Insurance contributions that is due to come into effect from April 2011.

Poor 'taxed more'

Earlier, Mr Clegg said Labour "cannot be trusted" on fairness because of figures suggesting the poorest are paying more tax than in 1997.

According to the party's research, the poorest 20% of households pay £107 more tax annually in today's prices than in 1997, while the richest 20% pay £319 less.

According to the Lib Dems, the poorest 20% of households have seen the share of their gross income which is taken up by tax increase from 37.8% in 1997 to 38.7% in 2008.

By contrast, the party says, the burden of tax on the richest 20% fell from 35.3% of gross income in 1997 to 34.9% in 2008.

But the Institute for Fiscal Studies said: "The Liberal Democrats have, once again, claimed that the poor pay more of their income in tax than the rich, and that this gap has got larger under Labour.

"But, by ignoring the fact that the poor get most of this income from the state in benefit and tax credit payments, and by overstating the extent to which indirect taxes are paid by the poor, this comparison is meaningless at best and misleading at worst."

More interviews

The BBC has said it hopes to follow the interview with Mr Clegg with programmes featuring the Labour and Conservative leaders.

Mr Paxman ended the broadcast saying: "Next week we hope to be talking to David Cameron, the week after that to Gordon Brown."

The BBC said: "We are planning a broad range of interviews - including party leaders across the BBC.

"As usual, as part of this process we have scheduled a series of interviews with the major party leaders."

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