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Clegg combative over Lib Dem 'wins'


Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said the party is 'punching above our weight' in the coalition

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said the party is 'punching above our weight' in the coalition

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said the party is 'punching above our weight' in the coalition

Nick Clegg insisted the Liberal Democrats are imposing their will on their Tory "enemies" as he kicked off the party's conference.

The Deputy Prime Minister mounted a robust defence of his performance in government as he sought to assuage activists' concerns over a series of high-profile policies.

Although the coalition may appear united in public, Lib Dem ministers were fighting "tooth and nail" for the party's values behind the scenes, Mr Clegg said.

The combative comments came as the gathering in Birmingham delivered a stinging rejection of welfare reforms which would place an "arbitrary" time limit on sickness benefits.

The party leadership also narrowly avoided further embarrassment over the government's controversial NHS shake-up. Members voted by 235 votes to 183 in favour of allowing an emergency motion on the changes to be debated. But because the bid fell short of a two-thirds majority it will not be eligible for selection - sparking cries of "shame" from the floor.

Addressing a rally to launch the autumn conference this evening, Mr Clegg admitted that many activists were still uncomfortable about his pact with David Cameron and the party's slump in the polls.

And he promised a tougher approach to his Conservative colleagues that would put more stress on Lib Dem "wins".

"We never oppose for the sake of opposition but we never shrink from telling it like it is and fighting for what is right," he told the party.

"If that makes us a bit awkward, a bit challenging, a bit difficult, so be it. We are prepared to be awkward. It's the same quality that makes Liberal Democrat ministers fight tooth and nail in their departments for the things we believe in. In government, it means sometimes we have to be awkward. As our Coalition partners are finding out on a daily basis, we are not here to make things easy. We're here to put things right."

Mr Clegg went on: "We didn't win the election so we can't do everything we want to, but we are doing a remarkable amount. Make no mistake - we are punching above our weight. The BBC recently reported research showing that three quarters of our manifesto is being delivered in government - more than the Conservative manifesto. Not bad given we have just 8% of the MPs in Westminster. And our liberal voice is loud and clear."