Clegg warns party of 'long, hard road ahead'

 

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The Independent Online

Nick Clegg told the Liberal Democrats yesterday that they must stay the course and fully support the Government's painful deficit-reduction strategy as he admitted: "There is a long, hard road ahead."

His sober and steely closing speech to his party's conference in Birmingham was punctuated by his message that the Coalition's decisions were "not easy but right". He said: "There are no shortcuts, but we won't flinch."

The Deputy Prime Minister was speaking against an increasingly gloomy economic backdrop as official figures showed that public sector net borrowing in the UK last month was a higher-than-expected £15.9bn, a record for August. He eschewed the politicians' usual desire to offer light at the end of the tunnel, but did promise to build "a new economy for the whole nation safe from casino speculation".

Mr Clegg conceded: "The outlook for the global economy has got worse. So we need to do more and we will do more for growth and jobs."

However, his 43-minute address offered few clues about what "more" can be done and was seen as a holding operation as the Cabinet searches for ways to get Britain's stalled economic wheels turning without departing from George Osborne's spending plans.

Noting that the Coalition had now lasted for 500 days, Mr Clegg praised his party members for their "resilience". He promised them it would be "worth it in the end".

His "most heart-wrenching" and "painful" decision was the rise in university tuition fees to £9,000 a year, and acknowledged "how much damage this has done to our party".

He declared that his own "passion" was to ensure a fair start for every child and boost social mobility, confirming a £50m summer schools programme for disadvantaged children.

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