Stick with me, Clegg begs Lib Dems
Nick Clegg has pleaded for Liberal Democrat activists to "stick with" him after he suffered a major rebellion over key coalition school reforms.
Delivering his first party conference speech as Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg mounted an impassioned defence of his decision to do a deal with David Cameron's Tories.
He told the audience in Liverpool that voters would never have taken the Lib Dems seriously again if they had passed up the opportunity to govern in the national interest at a time of crisis.
And he insisted the "soul" of the party is alive and well in the coalition despite members' fears that they were being marginalised and suffering serious political damage.
The address - a text of which was shown to the Prime Minister before being finalised - came after a difficult day for the leadership.
Just hours before Mr Clegg took to the stage, party members overwhelmingly backed a boycott of Tory-inspired plans for a network of "free" schools.
Mr Clegg told the audience at the Arena and Convention Centre that he knew many of the coalition's plans would "provoke controversy" and some Lib Dems were "worried" about the schools plans.
"The great thing is that all Liberal Democrats share a passion for education. When it comes to lasting fairness, education is everything," he said.
Mr Clegg reiterated his reasons for forging the Tory alliance, saying the "chance for change" came, and the Lib Dems "responded with real courage and conviction". He praised the Conservatives for being willing to "embrace negotiation and compromise".
"In life, two heads are usually better than one. And in politics, too, when the country faces grave challenges - the deficit, the threat of climate change, a war in Afghanistan, millions of children trapped in disadvantage - two parties acting together can be braver, fairer and bolder than one party acting alone," he said.