Light at end of tunnel, says Nick Clegg

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Nick Clegg insisted there was "light at the end of the tunnel" for Britain today after one of his closest allies sounded a dire warning over the dangers facing the economy.

The Deputy Prime Minister admitted the country faced a "long hard road" amid the eurozone crisis and stalling global growth.



But he sounded a distinctly more optimistic tone than Business Secretary Vince Cable - who last night highlighted the risks of a new credit crunch or Japan-style lost decade of stagnation.



In a round of broadcast interviews at the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham, Mr Clegg said Mr Cable had been "telling it as he sees it, which is that this is a very uncertain time economically".



"My own view is that we can and will get through this and there is of course light at the end of the tunnel," he said.



"But it is a long hard road to get there, because we have this great heart attack at the core of our economy in 2008 and it is still sending out aftershocks."



The party leader stressed that Britain's fate was closely tied to the fortunes of the EU.



"I think it is very difficult to stare into a crystal ball and be certain about the future," he said.



"I think it would help enormously if real leadership could be exercised in the eurozone to provide a roadmap out of their problems."



Mr Clegg robustly defended the coalition's deficit reduction measures, but said ministers had to be more "articulate" about actions they were taking to stimulate growth.



"We need people to feel more confident and confidence is something which you can recognise when you see it but can disappear quite quickly," he said.



"That's why the Government is giving tax cuts to millions of people on low and middle incomes, that's why we are giving support to manufacturers."



In his keynote speech to conference yesterday, Mr Cable insisted the Government needed to wage the "economic equivalent of war" on the downturn.



Invoking the example of Winston Churchill's coalition against the Nazis, he said: "You could say: that was war, that's different.



"Yes, it is different. But we now face a crisis that is the economic equivalent of war."



Mr Cable went even further later, raising concerns that the UK could suffer a spell in the economic doldrums like Japan in the 1990s.



The prospect of a second financial crash could not be ruled out, although he stressed that was not a "mainstream probability".



Despite spelling out such disastrous scenarios and stressing the need for the coalition to work together "in the national interest", Mr Cable delivered a series of stinging jibes against Tory colleagues.



Those targeted in his speech included Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and David Cameron's policy guru Steve Hilton.



He also blamed his coalition partners for a failure to rein in bankers' bonuses.



Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is expected to indulge in more highly political attacks when he takes to the platform today.



And he will announce a crackdown on the biggest energy companies and pledge to help customers save money. Ministers are poised to order suppliers to pay customers unlimited refunds to compensate for "bad behaviour".



Mr Huhne will also unveil tough new powers for energy watchdog Ofgem that will allow it to stop companies blocking reforms.



"We are determined to get tough with the big six energy companies to ensure that the consumer gets the best possible deal," he is to say.



"We want simpler tariffs. Requiring energy companies to tell you whether you could buy more cheaply on another tariff. And you could save real money.



"I want to help households save money, simpler charging, clearer bills, quicker switching and more consumer-friendly firms - co-ops, partnerships, consumer charities - dedicated to doing the shopping around for consumers to make sure that you are always on the best deal, even if you do not have time to check yourself.



"I believe Ofgem should have new powers to secure redress for consumers - money back for bad behaviour - and we will stop the energy companies from blocking action by Ofgem, which can delay matters by a year."



Lib Dem doyenne Baroness Shirley Williams is also due to speak in a debate on the NHS which could prove awkward for the party leadership.



At their spring gathering members condemned plans for reforming the health service, helping force a rethink of the controversial shake-up.

PA

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