Lib Dem conference: Nick Clegg slaps down Vince Cable and insists Coalition will continue 'all the way' to 2015

Rebuke comes after Business Secretary used his keynote speech to aggressively attack the Tories
  • @NigelpMorris

Nick Clegg insisted tonight that the Coalition Government would continue "all the way to the wire" as he slapped down a suggestion from Vince Cable that the Liberal Democrats' power-sharing deal with the Conservatives could break up early.

The Deputy Prime Minister said fixing the coalition's end-date was a matter for him - and he had already made clear he was determined it would endure for a "full five years" up to the general election in May 2015.

Mr Cable infuriated the party leadership when he told the Independent fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow on Monday that an early split in the Coalition was "certainly possible".

He said: "We are not at the stage of talking about that process. It is obviously a very sensitive one. It has got to be led by the leader. We have not yet had those conversations."

Asked later about his comments, Mr Cable reiterated that "all kind of things are possible" and said the position on the Coalition's end would be "collectively decided by our Lib Dem team" closer to the election.

But in a round of television interviews tonight, Mr Clegg said there was no prospect of an early end to the coalition.

"We will see this through. We've been very clear with the British people that this is a five-year parliament. We actually legislated such that the timetable was fixed and the next election would happen after five years.

"That's what we promised the British people. I'm not going to short-change the British people by somehow cutting and running beforehand."

He added: "It doesn't mean we can't express our differences, as we no doubt we will more overtly as we get towards the finishing line, but this Coalition Government will go all the way to the wire."

Advocates of early separation believe the party needs time to demonstrate its distance from the Tories, and to re-establish its distinct identity, in the run-up to the election.

But Clegg allies counter that it is essential for the Lib Dems to demonstrate they are taking a serious and responsible attitude to governing by persisting with the Coalition until the election is called.

Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: "We are proving our track record in government and we are going to stay in the Coalition Government right up until the election in 2015."

Sir Nick Harvey, the former Defence minister, dismissed as "ridiculous" the suggestion that the coalition would split early.

"Unless some unforeseen crisis should rock the coalition, I don't think there's any chance of it breaking up early," he said.

"The idea we would stage some tactical bust-up six months before an election is quite ridiculous. What are we going to do? Ask the public to press the reset button and forget about the preceding four and a half years? I don't think this is on the cards at all - we're in there for the long haul and we will see it through to the finish."

Danny Alexander (left) publicly slapped down Vince Cable