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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Life and Style
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
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

SEN Teaching Assistant needed for long term assignment

£45 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experienc...

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain