There's no turning back: Clegg to set out his plan to stay in government


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The Independent Online

Nick Clegg will today tell his Liberal Democrat critics it is too late for the party to turn back to the comfort zone of opposition and insist it is on course to become "one of three parties of government".

In his closing speech to the Liberal Democrat conference, he will warn the country that it still faces a long, hard journey from "the sacrifices of austerity" – and several more years of spending cuts – to "the rewards of shared prosperity". He will say his party is on an interlinked journey "from the comforts of opposition to the hard realities of government".

Yesterday, Mr Clegg insisted he was the right man to lead his party at the next election. But there is speculation at the margins of the Brighton conference that he could come under pressure to stand down if the Liberal Democrats' poor opinion poll ratings do not improve.

The Deputy Prime Minister said some cuts to the welfare budget were inevitable and made clear he would support withdrawing winter fuel payments and free television licences and bus travel from wealthy pensioners.

Today he will tell Liberal Democrats who want to pull out of the Coalition and pose as "a party unchanged" at the 2015 election that there can be no turning back. He will admit: "It's an alluring prospect in some ways. Gone would be the difficult choices, the hard decisions, the necessary compromises. And gone too would be the vitriol and abuse, from right and left, as we work every day to keep this government anchored in the centre ground."

But he will insist: "The choice between the party we were, and the party we are becoming, is a false one. The past is gone and it isn't coming back."

Referring to parties such as the Greens and Ukip, Mr Clegg will add: "If voters want a party of opposition – a "stop the world I want to get off" party – they've got plenty of options, but we are not one of them. There's a better, more meaningful future waiting for us. Not as the third party, but as one of three parties of government."

The Liberal Democrat leader will declare that he is "proud" of the resolve his party has shown since entering the Coalition. He will say: "It hasn't always been easy, and, when we've made mistakes, we've put our hands up."

He will argue: "The received wisdom, prior to the election, was that we wouldn't be capable of making the transition from opposition to government. The choices would be too sharp, the decisions too hard. The Liberal Democrats, it was said, are a party of protest, not power.