Clegg in bid to hold party line on economic policy

Liberal Democrat left-wingers to attack economic strategy at party's conference in Glasgow

Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, walks with Willie Rennie, member of the Scottish Parliament (centre) and Jo Swinson, Britain’s Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs (obscured), as he arrives at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre for the Liberal Democrats autumn conference in Glasgow. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, walks with Willie Rennie, member of the Scottish Parliament (centre) and Jo Swinson, Britain’s Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs (obscured), as he arrives at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre for the Liberal Democrats autumn conference in Glasgow. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Sat, Sep 14, 2013, 20:06

Liberal Democrats leader, Nick Clegg today began a three-day battle to head off a bid by party left-wingers to overturn the economic strategy followed for three years with the Conservatives.

Saying that he believed Mr Clegg would win Monday’s key vote, a party loyalist said the motion by the party’s Social and Liberal Forum was “politically illiterate” and would hand a gift to Labour.

In a push for unity, Mr Clegg, speaking at the party’s conference in Glasgow, said the gathering was an opportunity to debate “the realities and opportunities of government”.

He went on: “I’m just the latest in a long line of party leaders to know that when it comes down to it I have one vote in the conference hall just like the rest of you.”

The Liberal Democrats have been stronger in government since they entered coalition in 2010 because they voted on the Programme for Government agreed with the Conservatives, he said.

“We have decided the policies, fought the campaigns and taken on the vested interests. We decided, together, to go into government. People who don’t understand us like to call debate division,” he said.

Economic signals are ever more strongly indicating that the British economy is on the rebound, but Mr Clegg was quick not to overplay talk of green shoots, and more.

Monday’s vote should be won by the leadership, who may be attempting to secure some political advantage from over-stating the threat posed by the Social and Liberal Forum.

Nevertheless, large sections of his activists are less than enthusiastic about the reality of coalition, particularly given that opinion polls warn that the party is heading for meltdown in 2015.

In an interview today, Mr Clegg urged his people to stay the course: “Just as the economy is turning, it would be a huge risk to start putting the stability on which growth is based on ice.

“It would create uncertainty and confusion in the markets, investors would very quickly become cautious again, employers wouldn’t take on more people,” he told the London Independent.

“There is nothing that would more inhibit growth at this delicate stage than another bout of uncertainty about what the long term plan is to clear the deficit.”

The Conservatives have been more clear than the Liberal Democrats to trumpet the more bullish economic news, while both Mr Clegg and Business Secretary Vince Cable have been more cautious.

The Liberal Democrat leader is in a difficult political situation, since he needs to be able to show voters in 2015 that the decision to enter coalition was justified and that it worked.

However, if economic growth takes off too quickly it could intensify the pressure upon Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to part company with his coalition partner before the election.

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