Lib Dem conference: Stick to bargain, Clegg warns Tories

 

Nick Clegg acknowledged that the summer had been a tough and challenging time for the Lib Dems

Nick Clegg has warned the Conservatives to stick to their "side of the bargain" to keep the coalition government going.

The Liberal Democrat leader said Tory MPs could not "force a turbo-charged right-wing agenda on the country".

The party has threatened to veto "Conservative spending cuts" if some form of "wealth tax" is not adopted at the coalition's next spending review.

But in a speech to the Lib Dem conference, Mr Clegg urged supporters against "squabbling" with the Tories.

Half-way through the intended life of the coalition, the deputy prime minister is under pressure, with his party activists showing unrest and opinion poll ratings remaining low.

Members are unhappy that the coalition has abandoned the Lib Dems' long-cherished ambition of reforming the House of Lords, amid strong Conservative opposition.

And earlier this week Mr Clegg apologised for failing to keep the pre-2010 general election promise not to raise student tuition fees.

Tax ultimatum

During the five-day annual conference in Brighton, Mr Clegg is keen to promote the Lib Dems as a party of "fairness" when it comes to taxation. One of the key themes is the promise to push for a "wealth tax".

It is already Lib Dem policy to levy a 1% "mansion tax" on owners of expensive homes, starting at a threshold of £2m, and officials are looking at developing another proposal along these lines.

Analysis

Nick Clegg has got two jobs on his hands: to persuade Lib Dems he is still their man and to persuade voters that his party is still an influential part of the coalition.

He urged his supporters to show people that a coalition "works well for people", knowing that another version of it is a possibility after 2015.

There were the also predictable, but necessary for any leader, attacks: on Labour, whom he said had a lot to apologise for (read into that 'It's not just me who has things to say sorry for'), and on Conservatives, some of whom were pushing a "turbo-charged right-wing agenda" (meaning the Lib Dems are agents of restraint).

He also touched on the discipline needed to keep the coalition together, but was there a hint of a leader facing internal dissent?

Opinion polls have suggested support has plummeted. Mr Clegg knows there are some here who are questioning his leadership. Discipline could keep him in his job.

A spokesman said the party would refuse to sanction further cuts at the next spending review, expected to happen in 2014, unless some form of wealth tax was adopted by the coalition.

Mr Clegg said: "It's just wrong that people on low and middle incomes who work hard and play by the rules are taxed so much while Russian oligarchs pay the same council tax as some of you do on a family home."

However, the Conservatives oppose the mansion tax, arguing that it is unfair and would hit many homeowners hard.

In his speech to the conference's opening rally, Mr Clegg told delegates not to lose heart, saying: "We are proving that coalition works. But we need discipline. Yes, we must show people that we are different from our coalition partners.

"But if all people see is squabbling then they will think coalition is a messy, incoherent thing."

He also said: "We must show [people] it is a form of government that works well for them. If we don't we will have lost not only the argument for having Liberal Democrats in power but having a third party at all."

Mr Clegg set party activists a target of distributing three million leaflets setting out the "fairer" tax agenda by the end of the year, asking them to "do your bit the old-fashioned way".

The Lib Dems and the Conservatives are committed to working together until the end of this parliament, in 2015.

But Mr Clegg criticised the attitude of some of his coalition partners, saying: "My message to those Conservative backbench MPs who seem to think they have the right to force a turbo-charged right-wing agenda on our country is this: You didn't win the last election.

"You do not have a majority. The British people have not given you the right to act like you do. We formed this coalition in good faith and for the good of the country at a time of crisis.

"That required compromise on both sides. Liberal Democrats have kept our side of the bargain. You must too."

'Independent yellow party'

In recent weeks there has been speculation that the Lib Dems could do a deal with Labour in the event of another hung parliament. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has demonstrated some warmth towards the wealth tax idea.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes refused to rule out a coalition with Labour.

Yet Mr Clegg used his speech to attack the main opposition party, telling delegates: "Labour have had a lot of fun at my expense in recent days because of the apology I made. There are some pretty big things I think people would like to hear them apologise for.

"How about a personal apology from you, Ed Balls, for nearly bankrupting the country after you went on a prawn cocktail charm offensive in the City of London to let the banks off the hook? And how about, Ed Miliband, an apology, on behalf of your party, for dragging our country into an unjust and illegal war in Iraq?"

But he also urged Labour: "Tell us who you are. Tell the country what you are for, not just what you are against."

A Lib Dem party spokesman denied this was an overture to Mr Miliband and his Labour frontbench team ahead of potential coalition-building.

He told the BBC the Lib Dems were "fiercely independent", adding: "We are not part of the blue or the red party. We are an independent yellow party."

In his speech Mr Clegg announced that Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander would take over the party's review of how to replace Trident, the UK's nuclear weapons system.

This follows the removal of Lib Dem defence minister Nick Harvey from the government in the recent reshuffle.

 

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  • Comment number 971.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 970.

    Rebecca Riot
    I agree that the cost of university education is now horribly imbalanced towards those with the money to afford it. I believe that some kind of assessment of the career an individual is aiming for and the potential return in taxes during their career should be used to offer grants to students on the understanding that if they drop out, they have to pay the money back.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 969.

    coram populo-2010 968

    No high horses here

    The investment is in educating bright young folk to help our country forward, not to shove them off shelf stackers because that is all there is left

    I am not being snooty! Would you not prefer the brightest to lead the nation?

    It would seem sensible to have clever folk in government, not the current dim witted selfish whatnots?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 968.

    @961 'Rebecca Riot'
    ~~
    And what is wrong with stacking supermaket shelves exactly? Do you have an opinion on refuse collecters too? Sewage workers, street cleaners etc. Some of the brightest people do these jobs. Are they less worthy than someone with a degree?

    The Commons are full of people with degrees who don't pay their own bills - we do. Are they better than us? No. Get off your high horse.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 967.

    Interesting that the Conservatives and Lib Dems are taking a lot of criticism for trying to cut the deficit when it was Labour that increased it (even before the banking crises occured) by going on a spending splurge. The next Labour government (assuming they will win) will also have to make massive budget cuts so we will have to get used to it.

 

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