Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Clegg warns of more tough times

Nick Clegg delivers his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat Annual Conference in Brighton
Nick Clegg delivers his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat Annual Conference in Brighton
Miriam Gonzales Durantez kisses her husband Nick Clegg after his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat conference
Miriam Gonzales Durantez and Nick Clegg after his keynote speech in Brighton

Nick Clegg has warned Liberal Democrats of more tough times ahead as he put them on a war footing before the 2015 general election.

Setting out a bleak vision of the economic challenges faced by the country, the Deputy Prime Minister told activists that "nothing worthwhile can be won without a battle". But proving the party could manage the economy better than Labour and more fairly than the Tories would reap electoral reward.

The rallying cry came in Mr Clegg's keynote speech at the end of a turbulent conference in Brighton. The leadership secured backing from members for the coalition's austerity programme - but faced a wider public backlash over proposals to extract more tax from the rich and strip wealthy pensioners of benefits.

In an announcement designed to soothe unrest among the rank and file, Mr Clegg announced that popular former leader Paddy Ashdown is being brought back to run the general election campaign.

He pledged to block any Tory bid to further reduce the top rate of income tax, following controversy over his acceptance of a cut from 50p to 45p and reiterated his determination to ensure the rich shoulder the burden of an additional £16 billion of public spending cuts expected in 2015/16 and to fight "short-sighted" Tory opposition to green policies.

But he also delivered difficult messages on the need to make further cuts to the welfare budget to prevent Britain descending into a deep economic trough that would leave a "trail of victims".

He singled out shadow chancellor Ed Balls for particular criticism as he launched a staunch defence of the coalition's economic "Plan A", insisting it was "tough enough yet flexible" and would allow more "bold steps". He also dismissed David Cameron's attempts to paint his party as environmentally friendly as a "PR exercise" but said the Lib Dems were there to "hold them to their promises" to promote green growth.

And in a rousing conclusion to a speech billed as his attempt to define the Lib Dems as the "third party of government", not simply a vehicle for disaffected protest voters, he invoked the party's mantra of "marching towards the sound of gunfire".

"They never flinched, and nor should we. We owe it to them to seize the opportunity they gave us, but which they never had. Taking on the vested interests. Refusing to be bullied. Refusing to give up. Always overturning the odds. Fighting for what we believe in, because we know that nothing worthwhile can be won without a battle. A fair, free and open society. That's the prize. It's within our grasp. So let's go for it."

After finishing his 38-minute speech, Mr Clegg left the hall to the now-customary standing ovation, accompanied by his wife Miriam.

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