UK & World News
Clegg Blasted By Lib Dem Voter On Phone-In
A former Lib Dem councillor has confronted Nick Clegg on live radio to say he ditched the party because he is so ashamed of their performance in Government.
The Deputy Prime Minister was taking part in the first of his weekly phone-in shows, in a new drive to reconnect with voters as his party's popularity tumbles.
One caller named John, from Woking, provided a snapshot of the bitter feeling in the party's grassroots over policies taken up by the coalition.
Furious about welfare cuts, he told Mr Clegg during the LBC show: "I'm a Liberal Democrat who has just torn up his membership card.
"I joined in 1973 and I'm afraid I can't now say I want to represent the Liberal Democrats. I'm an ex-county councillor in Surrey and I am ashamed of what the party's doing."
The Deputy PM was forced to listen as the caller read out the pledges on the card, which include building a "fair, free and open society" in which no-one is "enslaved by poverty".
John challenged Mr Clegg to explain how he could reconcile the party's principles with "this Government's attacks on the poorest in society".
The politician asked him to give the party credit for measures like raising the income tax threshold and introducing a pupil premium for children from poor backgrounds.
He insisted he was "immensely proud" that the Lib Dems had taken the "brave" decision to enter a partnership with the Tories, but admitted it had been at "some political cost".
Another caller, student Lauren Archer, dismissed measures like the pupil premium as "tokenistic" and accused the Government of discouraging people from gaining qualifications.
She pointed out moves to abolish the education maintenance allowance and the increase in tuition fees, which was against a specific Lib Dem pledge.
"It seems as if the coalition is trying to tell them that higher education is not for them," she said.
Mr Clegg repeated his apology for the U-turn on fees, admitting they had made a promise they were not in a position to deliver on.
But he said it was always going to be "monumentally controversial" to go into coalition with any party and claimed voters were more understanding once actions are explained.
Giving a hint at why he signed up for the radio show, he said: "Where we can get on to people's doorstep or in front of a radio mike and explain to people what we are doing, why we are sticking to our guns on some of the big decisions, why the country has to go through this difficult process,
"I'm finding that people - perhaps not with bunting and wild-eyed enthusiasm - recognise that what we are doing is the right thing.
"What I'm trying to do is build a strong economy and a fair society."
In a wide-ranging half-hour of questions, Mr Clegg was also challenged over benefit cuts, international aid and job losses in the military.
He said he thought it was right for US President Barack Obama to signal that Washington wants Britain to remain a strong voice in Europe.
And he revealed that the Conservative Cabinet minister he would most like to go out for a drink with is Ken Clarke.
The most bizarre question was saved until last, when Harry, from Sheffield, asked him if he had ever worn a onesie - an all-in-one 'babygro' for adults.
A laughing Mr Clegg answered: "I was actually given a big green onesie in Sheffield, which I have kept in its packaging, but I haven't worn it yet."
Asked by host Nick Ferrari whether he would be willing to don the item in public for charity, he replied: "It's almost certainly something I would do in the privacy of my own home."
Labour frontbencher Angela Eagle described listening to the show as "half an hour of my life I will never get back".
The shadow Commons leader accused Mr Clegg of refusing to take part in a show in his constituency, claiming he was "hiding from the people of Sheffield".