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Nick Clegg tries to quell rebellion

Nick Clegg is engaged in last-minute talks with senior Liberal Democrats in an attempt to head off a rebellion at the party's spring conference in Sheffield next week.

Mr Clegg met a number of backbench MPs, council leaders and peers to shore up support and limit the damage from Thursday's disastrous by-election result in Barnsley.

The Lib Dem leadership fear anxiety over the party's poor poll ratings and the prospect of losing control of several large city councils in May's local elections could spill over into open revolt. They are expecting rank-and-file rebellions over the coalition's NHS reform policy and tuition fees.

On top of that, thousands of union members and student protesters are set to picket the conference, which will be particularly embarrassing for Mr Clegg as he is a Sheffield MP.

One of those Mr Clegg is |understood to have met is Greg Mulholland, head of the newly formed Liberal Democrat |Backbench Group. He has also spoken with Warren Bradley, the Liberal Democrat leader of Liverpool council and a critic of higher tuition fees.

The Deputy Prime Minister will arrive in Sheffield on Thursday and attempt to seize the initiative by getting “out and about” |with visits to Sheffield Wednesday

Football Club and a high-profile campaign knocking on doors with activists.

A senior Liberal Democrat said: “He'll be reminding people not to forget what we have done.

“The theme will be resilience. You can't change your philosophy just because you get a drubbing in Barnsley.”

Today the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, will turn up the heat on Mr Clegg after his party finished sixth in the Barnsley by-election, behind Ukip and the British National Party.

He is due to give a speech suggesting the Liberal Democrats are no longer a distinctive force.

As expected, Labour cruised to victory in a seat vacated by their former MP Eric Illsley, who was jailed last month for expenses fraud. His successor, Dan Jarvis, increased Labour's majority to 60.8%.

The Liberal Democrats' vote share tumbled from 17.28% to just 4.18%, and their Conservative coalition partner's from 17.26% to 8.25%, as Ukip claimed second place.

Mr Clegg warned critics not to dismiss the Liberal Democrats after one poor performance, on a low turn-out, in a safe Labour seat. “I have no doubt people will try to use this single result to write (us) off,” he said.

“We have proved them wrong (in the past) and we will prove them wrong again.”

Belfast Telegraph


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