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

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Life and Style
The spring/summer 2015 Louis Vuitton show for Paris Fashion Week
fashion
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

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?