Britain's Clegg vows 'louder voice' in coalition

8th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg vowed Sunday that his Liberal Democrats would take a more assertive role in the year-old coalition government after the party took a hammering in elections.

The Lib Dems last week lost a referendum on voting reform and fared badly in local elections, apparently taking the blame for harsh public services cuts while Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives escaped unscathed.

"The lesson I've learned listening to people on the doorsteps is that people want a louder Liberal Democrat voice in government," Clegg told the BBC.

"We need to show people where we have a moderating influence on the Conservatives and we need to stand up for our values and say that loud and clear."

Clegg signalled his new stance by threatening to derail the coalition's reforms of Britain's prized state healthcare service unless there were "substantial, significant changes".

But there would be no redrawing of the coalition agreement signed by the centrist Lib Dems with the centre-right Conservatives after general elections in May 2010, he said.

He also angrily dismissed a call by the leader of the opposition Labour party, Ed Miliband, for disaffected Lib Dem ministers to jump ship.

"If they are not in favour of these Tory policies they should stand up for what they believe or leave the cabinet," Miliband told Britain's Observer newspaper.

Britain's first coalition since World War II is under strain after more than two-thirds of voters in Thursday's referendum rejected a proposal to adopt the Alternative Vote system to elect lawmakers, which Clegg had heavily backed.

The Lib Dems, traditionally Britain's third-placed party in national elections but strong regionally, also had their worst local council results in a quarter of a century.

Clegg had insisted on the referendum as a condition of joining the coalition.

The Lib Dems have accused Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron of "ruthless" betrayal after the anti-AV campaign savaged Clegg for "broken promises".

The attacks came even though Clegg broke those election pledges in order to support the Conservative-led austerity measures aimed at tackling Britain's record deficit.

Finance Minister George Osborne, accused by the Lib Dems of having been a key figure in attempts to smear Clegg, sought to smooth over the rifts.

"There's a lot of heat in an election campaign in any democracy. Of course things are said, but we've had the result and now we move on," the Conservative minister told the BBC Sunday after Clegg's comments.

Cameron meanwhile reiterated that he expected the coalition to see out its full term and to try to get the world's sixth largest economy back on track.

"None of this should break the coalition," Cameron wrote in the Mail on Sunday.

"Indeed, our determination to lead a successful coalition government -- and run it for the full five years of this parliament -- is as strong as ever."

Since the Lib Dems' electoral meltdown last week, speculation had centred on whether a strengthened Cameron could offer Clegg concessions to keep the coalition afloat; or whether he will push for elections and a full majority.

Cameron appeared to indicate the former, saying the partnership with the Liberal Democrats was "absolutely vital".

"Some Conservatives might be thinking of celebrating this weekend -- a victory in the referendum and much better results than anyone expected or predicted in council elections. My message is: don't," he said.

"The real task is still ahead of us."

© 2011 AFP

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