UK Politics

Lib Dems to air 'coalition concerns' at Clegg meeting

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and Business Secretary Vince Cable
Image caption There are five Liberal Democrat members of the cabinet

Nick Clegg is to host a meeting of all Lib Dem MPs later amid concerns among some in the party about decisions taken by the coalition government.

The deputy prime minister will address MPs, peers and councillors at an "away day" in central London.

The planned 2.5% rise in VAT has angered many within the party, with one MP rebelling in a Commons vote on the move and several others abstaining.

Officials have downplayed the meeting's importance, saying it is not unusual.

Several senior figures in the party have insisted the gathering is similar to those held when the Lib Dems - who agreed to go into government with the Conservatives in May - were in opposition.

'Party rumblings'

However, the meeting comes after 10 days of rumblings over Lib Dem support for key coalition policies such as the planned VAT rise to 20% and the decision to axe 700 new school building projects.

While Colchester MP Bob Russell voted against the VAT rise on Tuesday, a further four Lib Dem backbench MPs supported an amendment calling for the rise to be limited to 0.5%.

Former leader Sir Menzies Campbell abstained in a number of votes on opposition amendments relating to VAT, while his predecessor Charles Kennedy did not vote in any of the divisions.

The government's decision to cancel half of the new projects under the Building Schools For the Future programme, and mistakes made in the announcement of the schools affected, have also caused concerns.

Armed forces minister Nick Harvey wrote to Education Secretary Michael Gove stressing that the coalition must look at alternative funding sources for schools as soon as possible or put its credibility "at risk".

The leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Liverpool council has said decisions such as these could see the party "wiped out" at the next election.

'Hard-headed decisions'

But amid talk of a "crisis summit", senior figures, including deputy leader Simon Hughes, have stressed Thursday's meeting is nothing out of the ordinary and that the party is committed to the coalition.

"We used to have these [meetings] before the election," Lib Dem MP and Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne told the BBC's Daily Politics show.

The get-together was an opportunity for the party to discuss its policy priorities and how they would be implemented as part of the coalition's programme, he stressed.

"I am looking forward to celebrating the Lib Dems being in government for the first time in 70 years and demonstraying emphatically that when people said that hung Parliaments led to weak government, and when people said the Lib Dems could not take hard-headed decisions in the national interest, they were wrong.

"We have debunked both those myths."

The VAT rebellion was not "on the scale" of those seen in the final months of the Labour government, he added.

"The government won big majorities on all of the votes. We have not been threatened once, even though we are taking the tough decisions that Labour flunked."

More on this story