British junior coalition partners urged to 'enjoy' power

18th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

The head of Britain's Liberal Democrats urged members Saturday to "enjoy" their first time in government, as their annual conference opened amid anger from some who think he sold them out to win power.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the party, Britain's third largest, had made "huge progress" since he took them into a coalition led by the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron after elections in May.

Many Liberal Democrats, who are meeting in the northwest English city of Liverpoool, are uneasy about the government's plans to slash public spending to reduce Britain's record deficit.

Clegg told delegates that "being in this coalition still isn't always easy" but hailed the party's achievements in the last four months including the securing of a cherished referendum on changing the voting system.

"I want everyone in this room to just stop and enjoy that for a second. I hope each and every one of you is as proud as I am of what we have already achieved," Clegg said.

"You had the courage to take the leap into the unknown, to take this party to government. Everything that has happened since has proved that you were right to do so," he added.

The conference comes as the party's ratings are in freefall, from 23 percent in the elections in May to as low as 12 percent.

There was a more sober assessment from senior party member Vince Cable, the business minister in the new government, who said the Liberal Democrats had failed to "get a breakthrough" in the election.

The Lib Dems won 57 seats, five fewer than in the 2005 vote, and neither the Conservatives nor the incumbent Labour Party won an outright majority.

Another thorn in Clegg's side at the conference is deputy party leader Simon Hughes, who has called for a veto for Lib Dem lawmakers on coalition policies they do not agree with and has refused to rule out a future partnership with Labour.

There are also a number of motions tabled at the conference which appear designed to embarass the leadership, including a call for research into a new tax on the rich -- something guaranteed to outrage their Tory partners.

Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy issued a warning about the cuts this week, telling the BBC that "we have to be terribly careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater" and urging "enlightened public investment".

© 2010 AFP

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