Special Report: Nick Clegg attacks Tory 'enemies of progress' at Liberal Democrat conference

Deputy PM denounces 'systematic, misleading and mendacious' campaign

Nick Clegg accused right-wing Conservatives of lying over the environment yesterday, as he insisted that the Liberal Democrats had a clear identity distinct from David Cameron's party and could win more seats at the next election.

The Deputy Prime Minister's extraordinary assault on what he called "enemies of progress" was echoed by Vince Cable, who accused some on the Tory right of waging an "ideological jihad" by calling for further cuts on tax and spending.

Mr Clegg will attempt to use his party's victory in Eastleigh to bolster his leadership by telling Lib Dems in Brighton today that they need to harness their appetite for power, using the winning zeal in Eastleigh to scoop more support in 2015. Far from being subsumed by the Tories in coalition, the Liberal Democrat identity is easier to see, he will say, because they are standing side by side.

In his main speech to his party's spring conference, he will say: "The Lib Dems are not a party of protest; we are a party of change. Get back out there. Tell our side of the story. And we will win again."

But with the seaside gathering overshadowed by the Lord Rennard sexual harassment allegations and two members of the party elite, Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce, facing jail, activists on the fringes of the conference began discussing how long Mr Clegg should remain leader, with support mounting for the party president, Tim Farron.

The Deputy Prime Minister was criticised by some activists for his response to the Rennard affair, who pointed out that he had not yet apologised on behalf of the party.

Speaking yesterday at the launch of a new Lib Dem collection of essays on the environment, entitled The Green Book, Mr Clegg said tensions between his party and the Tories over the environment were "very real". He added: "I am unabashed in saying that we Liberal Democrats have a crucial role to keep this government anchored in the centre ground, not to make it lurch one way or the other, nor allow it to be captured by vested interests or a particular set of prejudices.

"I have probably spent more time with Ed [Davey], and before that with Chris [Huhne], making sure the coalition government does what it said it would do – and, frankly, what the Conservatives said they would do – putting the environment at the heart of our policy-making.

"The centre of gravity on the right of British politics at the moment is to denigrate the importance of the environment, to conduct a systematic, misleading and mendacious campaign which some seem to suggest – or seek to suggest – that somehow protecting the environment is inimical to keeping people's livelihood protected and putting money back into their progress.

"The enemies of progress, enemies of green growth, the enemies of protecting the environment are trying to distort and warp the environmental cause into one which they will claim costs people money and jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth. One thing I can assure you is Ed and I will never, ever bow to that prejudice."

At a fringe meeting of the left-wing Social Liberal Forum, Mr Cable, the Business Secretary, fuelled the cabinet row over departmental cuts and rounded on the Tory "jihad" against state spending.

"What we have to make absolutely clear is that there is a difference between managing public spending, controlling public spending in that context – having that financial discipline – and the kind of thing that a lot of right-wing Conservatives are wishing for, which is a kind of British Tea Party, a kind of ideological jihad against public spending and public services."

He stood by his comments in a New Statesman article last week suggesting that the Government should borrow more to spend on infrastructure to boost growth.

Mr Cable insisted the markets had not "collapsed" as a result of his essay, adding: "The point I was trying to make is that we need to be open-minded and recognise that the balance of these risks may well be changing."

Mr Cable said he was on the "same page" as the Prime Minister, "but we have different emphases and we use different language".

Warning that it would be "utterly counterproductive" to cut his science and skills budgets any further, the Business Secretary added: "Lib Dems in government will not allow that to happen."

Mr Clegg's aides said the leader's speech today was "forward-looking" and would not cover the Lord Rennard affair. Following Eastleigh, the Lib Dems are confident they can "pinch" seats from the Tories in 2015, said aides.

Mr Clegg will say: "There is a myth that governing together, in coalition, diminishes the ability of the smaller party to beat the bigger party – the idea that, in Tory-facing seats, the Liberal Democrats will find it impossible to distinguish our record, our values, from theirs. But that myth has been utterly confounded. The opposite is true. The longer you stand side by side with your opponents, the easier your differences are to see."

Continuing his theme, Mr Clegg will add: "You can't trust Labour to build a strong economy. You can't trust the Tories to build a fair society. Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver a strong economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on."

Party purge

Nick Clegg heaped praise on Chris Huhne yesterday for his "powerful and effective" work on the environment. The glowing tribute came as it emerged, however, that Huhne was thrown out of the Lib Dems after he pleaded guilty for covering up a speeding offence. In a move showing that the Lib Dem leadership is trying to purge the party of scandal, it was revealed that Huhne was asked to resign his membership while his partner, Carina Trimingham, is also no longer a member. Vicky Pryce, who is awaiting sentencing, is expected to be thrown out of the party.

Lord Rennard could be forced to resign his membership if a party inquiry finds evidence behind allegations of sexual harassment.

At the launch of The Green Book, a collection of essays by Lib Dem environmentalists, Mr Clegg said: "Whatever else has happened with Chris and Vicky … it is worth being reminded that he was an outstanding constituency MP; he was also an extremely powerful thinker and, indeed, very effective secretary of state … on the green agenda."

Jane Merrick

Premier League Live
footballLIVE Follow all the Premier League action as it happens
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
peopleTV star had been reported missing
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone