Lib Dem leader to defend British coalition to party faithful

20th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

The leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats will passionately defend entering a coalition with the Conservatives on Monday, insisting his party would have lost all credibility if it had not.

In a speech to the party's conference in Liverpool, northwest England, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will also say the Lib Dems remain a strong, separate political force, despite polls showing their support falling.

His speech comes amid open anxiety among supporters about the compromises the third party of British politics has had to make to gain power, especially in signing up to major cuts in public spending to tackle a record deficit.

"Some say we shouldn't have gone into government at a time when spending had to be cut," Clegg will say, according to pre-released extracts of his speech.

"But the door to the change we want was opened, for the first time in most of our lifetimes. Imagine if we had turned away. How could we ever again have asked voters to take us seriously?"

The conference is the first for the party since it joined the coalition following May's elections, which gave the Conservatives the most seats in parliament but not enough to govern alone.

In choosing to join a Conservative-led government, rather than propping up the incumbent Labour administration, Clegg argued he was responding to the will of voters. But many in his party worry they have to compromise too much.

Over the next few days, fiery debates are expected about the coalition's plans to cut billions of pounds in public spending, as well as tax plans and school reforms -- and whether the Lib Dems can maintain their identity.

The latest polls show the party's support has plummeted since the election.

Clegg confirmed Sunday that the party will field candidates in every constituency in the next national poll in 2015 -- a move welcomed by cheers from the rank and file, fearful of a long-term alliance with the Tories.

"The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are and always will be separate parties, with distinct histories and different futures," he will say on Monday.

"But for this parliament we work together to fix the problems we face and put the country on a better path. This is the right government for now."

© 2010 AFP

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