UK Politics

Paddy Ashdown urges Lib Dems to not let power be a 'blip'

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Media captionPaddy Ashdown: ''We are a party of government today, and that changes everything''

Lord Ashdown, the Liberal Democrats' former leader, has called on his party to win a second term in office.

Lord Ashdown, heading the party's election strategy, told the Brighton spring conference he wanted being in government to "become a habit" and not be a "blip".

Earlier, Business Secretary Vince Cable warned industry would suffer if areas like health were spared spending cuts.

He told the Guardian of his concern for funding for science and universities.

Mr Cable also repeated his calls for more capital spending and called for pensioners' benefits to be means tested or taxed.

Lord Ashdown's dominant message to activists was the party - which has been in a coalition government with the Conservatives since 2010 - now had a taste of power and wanted more.

"I don't want being in government, to be a blip for the Liberal Democrats. I want it to become a habit."

He added: "You can't change a country overnight. You can't deliver on the liberal promise in just one government. It takes time.

"And that's why, at the next election, we can and we must ensure that we have the votes and seats to continue the job we have, with such courage, started together."

The key election campaign message, he said, was "to build a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life".

Image caption Vince Cable said further significant cuts could be very damaging in important areas such as science

BBC political correspondent Louise Stewart said: "We know they want to be in government but we don't know for definite who they want to be in government with."

The conference comes after the party held the Eastleigh seat, former cabinet minister Chris Huhne was convicted for perverting the course of justice and the party's ex-chief executive Lord Rennard accused of misconduct.

Lib Dem president Tim Farron said on Friday the party was in a "critical state" and its survival was not guaranteed.

But the party's chief whip in the Commons, Alistair Carmichael, insisted on Saturday the party was "in a much better condition than people in the press would ever want the general public to know".

Current leader Nick Clegg praised Huhne during a question-and-answer session with activists later.

"Not only was he an outstanding local constituency MP, he was also an extremely powerful thinker and indeed a very effective secretary of state," he said.

On Friday, Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems had "let people down" by not dealing with claims made against Lord Rennard, which the peer rejects.

He told delegates allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards women would be "investigated thoroughly and independently".

Meanwhile, Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce will be sentenced on Monday for perverting the course of justice.

Senior figures in the party are facing questions about when they knew of allegations Pryce had taken speeding points on her husband's behalf.

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