Clegg: Turn your fire on Tories
Published 10/03/2013 | 10:41
Nick Clegg has urged Liberal Democrats to turn their fire on the Tories as he attempted to draw a line under damaging scandals and build on the Eastleigh by-election victory.
The Deputy Prime Minister mocked his coalition partners for veering to the right like a "broken shopping trolley" after a disastrous showing in the contest, and promised to keep them in check.
But he also made clear that there was no chance of borrowing more to kick-start the economy, despite calls from Business Secretary Vince Cable and some party members.
The defiant message came in a keynote speech wrapping up the Lib Dem spring conference in Brighton.
The leadership has spent the weekend trumpeting the solid performance in Eastleigh. But they have also been forced to engage in damage limitation over allegations of sexual harassment by former chief executive Lord Rennard - which he denies - and the conviction of ex-Cabinet minister Chris Huhne.
Activists gave Mr Clegg a bloody nose by overwhelmingly rejecting plans for so-called secret courts. Two prominent party figures - lawyers Jo Shaw and Dinah Rose - resigned their memberships in protest at his "car crash" handling of the legislation.
However, the leader appealed for the party to display "unity" and recognise that it was achieving great things in government. He said: "I know some of you have had a quiet fear, ticking away at the back of your minds. The worry that the risk we took was too big.
"No, Liberal Democrats. It may have been a risk, but we took it for the right reasons: to steer Britain through a time of economic crisis; to govern in the national interest; to govern from the centre ground; to build a stronger economy, in a fairer society, enabling everyone in Britain to get on in life. And that decision will pay off - for the country, and for us too. There is a myth that governing together, in coalition, diminishes the ability of the smaller party to beat the bigger party.
"The idea that, in Tory facing seats the Liberal Democrats will find it impossible to distinguish our record, our values, from theirs. But that myth has been utterly confounded.
"The opposite is true. The longer you stand side-by-side with your opponents, the easier your differences are to see. We don't lose our identity by governing with the Conservatives. The comparison helps the British people understand who we are."