Clegg shakes off NHS reforms rebuke
Nick Clegg is seeking to soothe anxious Liberal Democrats after they dealt him a sharp rebuke over the coalition's controversial NHS reforms.
The Deputy Prime Minister will emphasis his party's distinct identity, claiming to be neither of the left or right but governing "from the middle, for the middle".
Activists at the Lib Dem spring conference in Sheffield overwhelmingly passed a motion on Saturday condemning proposals for putting GPs in charge of commissioning services.
Speaker after speaker demanded a rethink, with party doyenne Baroness Shirley Williams branding the changes "lousy" and backbencher Andrew George insisting the Lib Dems should not be "the architects of (the NHS's) demise".
John Pugh MP said the reforms would create the "biggest quango in the country", and only Tory health secretary Andrew Lansley thought they were a good idea.
Mr Clegg played down the heavy defeat during a question and answer session with members later, insisting "almost all" the amended motion went "with the grain" of the Government's reforms.
"I am now going to look at it in considerable detail," he said. "Because I think a lot of what we have talked about this weekend - greater accountability, greater transparency, making sure we don't have a wilful disruptive approach to diversity of providers and don't allow the profit motive and price competition to run a coach and horses through the NHS - that's precisely what is happening."
Mr Clegg suffered more embarrassment at the hands of members on Sunday morning when they passed an emergency motion criticising the 'Project Merlin' deal the Government struck with banks to restrain bonuses and boost lending.
The conference dismissed the agreement as "insufficient", saying the language was "weak and will be hard to enforce, particularly with regards to net lending to business and transparency on bankers' remuneration".
During the debate, one activist described Project Merlin as "more like Project Tommy Cooper" because it was full of "pathetic tricks".