Clegg says party must make tough decisions on spending to win votes

Nick Clegg told the Liberal Democrats they could make an historic breakthrough at the election – but only if they had the bravery to face up to dire economic problems facing Britain. After a fractious conference marred by dissent over his leadership style, he warned his party yesterday that it would have to take painful decisions in order to be taken seriously by the voters.

Mr Clegg said he was unrepentant about having spelled out tough messages over the scale of cuts required to public spending to reduce Britain's mountain of debt.

But he also used his keynote speech to the Bournemouth gathering to try to rally morale among his restive MPs and delegates by raising the prospect of power after the election. Conspicuously avoiding any reference to coalitions or hung parliaments, the Lib Dem leader insisted he had set his sights on forming the next government.

"Let me tell you why I want to be prime minister," he told activists. "It's because I want to change our country for good." He added: "I want to be prime minister because I have spent half a lifetime imagining a better society. And I want to spend the next half making it happen."

In the party's final conference before the next election, Mr Clegg attempted to convey the seriousness of his ambitions. His refusal to rule out abandoning the party's cherished commitment to scrap university tuition fees has been attacked across the party during a turbulent week in Bournemouth, with former leader Charles Kennedy joining the criticism.

The Lib Dem leader has also come under fire for warning that Britain needed "savage" spending cuts. And Vince Cable, the treasury spokesman, provoked anger among colleagues for not consulting them over his proposals to impose a "mansion tax" on the owners of £1m-plus houses.

But Mr Clegg warned the party would have to make difficult choices on tax and spending if it was to set out a realistic national recovery programme that he characterised as "progressive austerity".

He said: "Many of these decisions will be difficult. Taking them is the price of fairness. But if we are brave enough to take them, it will be the beginning of real change in Britain."

He did not address the issue of tuition fees directly, but said: "I am never going to duck asking the important questions, however difficult they are."

Urging activists to pull together following their conferences differences, he said: "Let's always remember – we are in this together. So let us not look back any longer, let us look forward.

"From this point on, keep your eyes on our goal. Let today mark the beginning of real change in Britain."

Mr Clegg's speech, which he delivered on his ninth wedding anniversary, won a warm, but not ecstatic, four-minute ovation from delegates.

With his wife Miriam, he toured the hall shaking hands and posing for pictures with some Gurkhas, whose campaign for resettlement rights he successfully championed earlier this year.

Mr Clegg now faces a tough battle to hold on to the party's 63 constituencies in the election, likely to take place in the spring.

His claim that his party, which faces a concerted challenge from a buoyant Conservative Party in half of those seats, was on course for power risked echoes of David Steel's notorious challenge to Liberals to "return to your constituencies and prepare for government".

Last night Labour ridiculed him as a fantasist. But the Lib Dem leader's aides claimed private polling showed millions of voters still had not made up their minds who to support at the next election, making the outcome impossible to predict.

Mr Clegg argued that the Lib Dems now carried the "torch of progress" because a "lost" Labour Party had run out of energy and ideas and stood no chance of election victory.

He derided David Cameron's "hollow" Tories for only offering the illusion of change, claiming they lacked conviction.

In a direct appeal to floating voters, he said: "Make no mistake – the Liberal Democrats will do things differently in Britain.

"But if you want real change in Britain, you have to take a stand. If you want what we propose, you have to vote for it."

News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
Band was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
Loan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Extras
indybest 9 best steam generator irons
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Officer (HMP Brixton Mentoring Project)

£24,000 per annum pro rata (21 hours per week): Belong: Work as part of a cutt...

Construction Solicitor / Partner

Highly Competitive Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - Senior Construction Solici...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

DT teachers required for supply roles in Cambridge

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: DT teachers required ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering