Nick Clegg to 'defend tolerant and modern Britain' with Lib Dems as clear pro-Europe choice

Nick Clegg pictured speaking at the Liberal Democrat spring conference in York. Photo: Empics

Given the Lib Dems dire standing in the polls this has been a surprisingly upbeat conference.

That's partly because it has been free of any whiff of scandal or controversy that has dogged many of their recent spring conferences - no tuition fees style dramas, Chris Huhne distractions and even barely a mention of Lord Rennard.

But it's also because the Lib Dems feel as though they have found a clear way of defining themselves - the party of IN - as in IN Europe.

Not the most catchy catchphrase perhaps, but a positioning that sets them apart not just from Ukip but from the Tories too.

Nick Clegg believes that the main parties have let Ukip and Tory Eurosceptics define the debate on Europe.

He is now filling that vacuum with a plenty of overtly pro-European rhetoric.

That will be the focus of his keynote speech here in York and something he will be given the chance to air when he goes head-to-head with Nigel Farage in their televised debate next month.

One paper has dubbed that 'the clash of the middleweights' but as one of Nick Clegg's advisors put it to me, it is rare for the two smaller parties to dominate the debate like this.

Today Nick Clegg will frame it as a fight for the very future of the country, saying:

An ungenerous, backwards looking politics has emerged in Britain.

The politics of blame has found an acceptable face: it wears a big smile and looks like someone you could have a pint with down the pub.

So I’m drawing a line in the sand. I am going to defend the tolerant and modern Britain we love, and I am going to start by showing people what’s at stake at the upcoming European elections: do you want Britain in Europe, or out?

No prizes for guessing that it's Ukip and Nigel Farage he has in mind there.

Mr Farage has mined a fruitful vein of votes in being the clearest anti-European voice AND taken the protest votes the Lib Dems usually pick up while he's at it.

Nick Clegg is hoping that there are votes to pick up in being the clearest voice on the opposing side.

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