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We’ll stop the return of ‘slash and burn’ policies, vows Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg appealed to the public and his own party to stick with him as the coalition Government “fixes” Britain's deficit crisis and he promised to prevent the Conservatives repeating their “slash and burn” cuts of the 1980s.

A year ago at his party's conference in Bournemouth, Mr Clegg struggled to get his voice heard, his aides battled for media attention and his party fretted about how to clear the “wasted vote” hurdle as the election approached.

In a rollercoaster past six months, he burst on to the public's radar in the leaders' televised debates; saw the bubble burst as his party ended up with fewer seats; but held the balance of power and ended up as Deputy Prime Minister in an unlikely coalition with the Tories.

This year's Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool has felt very different to last year's. The media has been here in force and party officials have fended off questions about the latest alleged “split” with the Tories or Lib Dem grassroots revolt.

Yesterday's speech was that of a new statesman, no longer a third party leader dreaming of power. Mr Clegg was sober and serious, insisting there could be no turning back from the huge cuts to be announced next month. Urging his party to join him on the difficult journey ahead, he asked it to “hold our nerve” as the public deficit was cleared.

In return, he presented himself to his internal critics as the coalition's conscience, promising to protect the most vulnerable people and parts of the country from the Treasury axe — despite warnings from analysts like the Institute for Fiscal Studies that the cuts will be regressive.

His 37-minute address, which had been cleared by David Cameron, declared the cuts would not be made for ideological reasons, in a rebuff to Tory right-wingers.

The Liberal Democrat leader also dismissed criticism that the forthcoming cuts would take Britain back to the 1980s or 1930s.

“It isn't true,” he said.

“Even when all the cuts have happened we will still be spending 41% of our national income — the same amount we were spending in 2006. The spending review is about balance and responsibility, not slash and burn.”

Defending the coalition, Mr Clegg told his party it was in line with the “new politics” it had sought.

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