Clegg urges unity over school plans
BRITISH Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg pleaded for Liberal Democrat activists to "stick with" him yesterday 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 said 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 that the "soul" of the party was alive and well in the coalition, despite members' fears that they were being marginalised and suffering serious political damage.
Just hours before Mr Clegg took to the stage in Liverpool, party members overwhelmingly backed a boycott of Tory-inspired plans for a network of "free" schools.
"It wouldn't be Liberal Democrat conference if we didn't have a motion that provoked strong passions on both sides," Mr Clegg said.
"The great thing is that all Liberal Democrats share a passion for education. When it comes to lasting fairness, education is everything.
"My vision is that every school, in time, will be equal, every school equally free. But there's one freedom new schools shouldn't have: freedom to select," he said.