Clegg defends coalition decision
The Liberal Democrats would never have been taken seriously again if they had passed up the chance to govern in coalition, Nick Clegg is to say.
The Deputy Prime Minister is to deliver an impassioned defence of his deal with David Cameron in his keynote speech to party conference.
Activists at the gathering in Liverpool have openly expressed anxiety over the policy compromises the party made to share power, and the potential political damage it has suffered. But Mr Clegg will reiterate his belief that he made the best choice, saying the Tory-Lib Dem coalition was the "right government at the right time".
"Some say we shouldn't have gone into government at a time when spending had to be cut," he will tell the audience at the Arena and Convention Centre. "We should have let the Conservatives take the blame. Waited on the sidelines, ready to reap the political rewards. Maybe that's what people expected from a party that has been in opposition for 65 years.
"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 is to concede that the "years ahead will not be easy", blaming Labour for leaving the "country's coffers empty", and will add:"You do not get to choose the moment when the opportunity to shape your country comes your way. All you get to choose is what you do when it does."
The Lib Dem leader will flatly rule out any prospect of the coalition lasting beyond the next general election - due in May 2015. He will say: "The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are and always will be separate parties, with distinct histories and different futures. But for this Parliament we work together to fix the problems we face and put the country on a better path. This is the right Government for right now."
The Lib Dem leadership unveiled a crowd-pleasing crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion on Sunday, pledging to make the rich pay their "fair share" towards efforts to tackle the deficit. Funding will be made available for HM Revenue & Customs to increase criminal prosecutions for tax evasion five-fold, with a dedicated team of investigators created to catch those hiding money offshore. Private debt collection agencies will be tasked with recouping up to a billion pounds of tax debt, while smugglers and organised crime will be targeted. Those earning more than £150,000 a year - the threshold for the new 50% rate - can also expect closer scrutiny.
Mr Clegg also sought to reassure activists over the coalition's plans for cuts, suggesting the impact of curbs on budgets had been "exaggerated".