Embattled Clegg rallies British coalition partners

13th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

The embattled leader of Britain's Liberal Democrat coalition partners, Nick Clegg, told his party Sunday his "soul" was intact despite the unpopular decisions he must take.

Clegg has come under fire for policy choices seen as forced on the Lib Dems by their larger Conservative coalition partners, such as a sharp rise in tuition fees for university students which sparked riots.

Referring to reports that a criminal plot against him had led police to reinforce security around the conference venue in Sheffield, northern England, Clegg joked that Prime Minister David Cameron had not "kidnapped me".

But he admitted that the alliance with the Tories struck after last May's general election meant the party was being forced to support "decisions which aren't exactly the ones we would make on our own".

"We all know that we did not take the easy path last May. But we did take the right path," Clegg said in his keynote speech to the spring conference.

"Yes, being in government with the problems we inherited is hard. Explaining why we are having to make cuts is hard.

"And being in coalition with another party is not always easy either... but every single day I work flat out to make sure that what we are doing is true to our values."

Clegg, the deputy prime minister, argued the government had no choice but to make deep cuts in public spending because of the huge deficit it inherited from Gordon Brown's Labour government.

The centre-left Lib Dems had always been the party of "fairness, freedom, and progress and reform", he added.

"We cherished those values in opposition. Now we are living by them in government.

"So yes, we have had to toughen up. But we will never lose our soul."

Clegg said he would never regret taking the Lib Dems into government after decades spent in opposition, even if the Conservatives are not his party's natural political allies.

"Clinging to the comfort blanket of opposition would not have made life more comfortable for our fellow citizens. It would have been an abdication of responsibility.

"Never, ever doubt the value of being in government," he said.

In a sign of voter dissatisfaction with their role in the coalition, the Lib Dems this month finished sixth in a by-election in Barnsley, northern England, where they had finished second in the general election.

© 2011 AFP

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