Clegg defends Lib Dems’ right-wing credentials

Nick Clegg has hit out at ex-Home Office minister Jeremy Browne for claiming the Liberal Democrats are a party which naturally lurches to the left.

The deputy prime minister spent the early years of life in government repeatedly insisting the Lib Dems had not embraced right-wing politics after entering into coalition with the Conservatives.

His ex-Home Office minister's complaints that the Liberal Democrats are like a shopping trolley which "left to its own devices defaults to the left and to being the party of protest" prompted his staunchest defence yet of the Lib Dems' right-wing credentials.

He cited his party's decision at its autumn conference in Glasgow to continue its "tough fiscal approach" as evidence to back up his claim.

Other decisions to embrace civil nuclear power, abandon the tuition fees pledge and reject the reinstatement of a 50p top rate of tax were also mentioned.

"Subsequent to that, we've had one secretary of state deliver privatisation of the Royal Mail and another one deliver massive Chinese and French investment in new civil nuclear capacity," Clegg told at his monthly press conference in the Scotland Office.

"Anyone who tries to say to me that is a record of a party lurching to the left really has quite a different understanding about shopping trolleys, or left or right."

Browne's interview in the Times came days after he was sacked by Clegg. He had been seen as a rising star on the party's right wing until his removal from government, which led to Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps unsuccessfully attempting to persuade him to defect to the Tories.

"I saw my role, and continue to do so, as doing everything I can to accelerate the Lib Dems' journey from a party of protest to a party of government," Browne told the Times earlier this month.

"There is a role in politics for stopping things you don't want to happen, but I want the greatest emphasis to be on what we have managed to achieve rather than what we have managed to prevent the Conservatives from achieving."

That advice appears to be clashing with his party leader's approach to the energy prices controversy currently dominating Westminster.

Clegg made clear in the post-PMQs press conference he was not comfortable with David Cameron's suggestion that green levies used to subsidise renewable energy investment could be cut in a bid to lower energy bills.

"I don't want to see a penny more on people's energy bills than is absolutely necessary" he said.

The deputy prime minister said it was "no secret" that he was concerned about Cameron's plans but said he was confident that the coalition would find a consensus on the issue.