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We had no alternative to coalition, says Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg will tell the Liberal Democrats today that there was no alternative to entering the coalition with the Conservatives as he rebuffs internal critics who claim he is shifting his party to the right.

In his speech to his party's Liverpool conference, Mr Clegg will declare that the Liberal Democrats would never have been taken seriously by voters if they had spurned a historic opportunity to share power.

The Liberal Democrat leader tried to reassure his party's doubters yesterday by promising that a shake-up of welfare in next month's Government spending review would squeeze so-called “middle class” benefits as well as those paid to the poor.

His remarks suggest that child benefit, child tax credits and winter fuel payments for pensioners could be curbed.

Mr Clegg told BBC Radio 5 Live he would happily give up his family's £2,450-a-year child benefit payments for his three sons.

“It would be unfair to only deal with those benefits which only go to people on very low means. You have to also — because that's the fair thing to do — look at benefits that go high up the income scale to people who maybe are not so much in need and that's exactly what we're doing,” he said.

Echoing Margaret Thatcher's blunt “there is no alternative” message to her Tory critics, the Deputy Prime Minister will tell the conference today: “People have got used to us being outsiders, against every Government that's come along. Maybe we got used to it ourselves.

“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 the voters to take us seriously?”

Mr Clegg will insist that the public deficit must be tackled rapidly.

He will praise his own party for showing conviction and courage at a difficult time and urge it to keep its eyes on the likely long term prize after the cuts have been made.

In a crowd-pleasing announcement, Mr Clegg disclosed that the value of British aid being sent to Pakistan was to more than double. Another £70m was being set aside to rebuild houses, schools and farms in addition to the £64m already committed by the Government.

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