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Clegg denies Cable policy split
Nick Clegg has played down suggestions of a split with Business Secretary Vince Cable over economic policy, as he appeals for Liberal Democrat activists' support on the key issue.
The Deputy Prime Minister said he was "leading from the front" by taking the unusual step of speaking in a debate on a motion at the party's conference in Glasgow.
And he insisted Mr Cable - who will not be speaking despite earlier expectations - was fully supportive of the text. "We do agree, we have sat around the Cabinet table for the last three years agreeing fulsomely on the need to fill the black hole in the public finances left by the Labour Party, to reform the banking system," he told the Press Association. "There is a strong agreement there."
Asked whether Mr Cable would be voting in favour, the Lib Dem leader replied: "We will all support this motion. This sets out an approach that we have in a sense been following for three years in government."
Mr Clegg, who is backing the motion which endorses the coalition's strategy and fiscal mandate, said he wanted to "lead from the front on the most crucial issue of the day, the economy". "We must show the British people of course that we have got new, fresh ideas of our own on housing, banking and renewable energy," he said. "But we also need to keep the stability, our approach to clearing up the mess left by Labour, without which I do not think the recovery will continue and gather momentum."
Mr Clegg added: "Vince has been quite rightly very outspoken about the need to do more where we can to get housebuilders to build more homes." He said the motion showed the "unique Liberal Democrat resolve to finish the job that we have started, but crucially to finish it fairly".
Mr Clegg dismissed reports of his differences with Mr Cable over economic policy as "a bit of a storm in a teacup". He told ITV1's Daybreak: "Vince and I have been working hand in glove for the last three years, pursuing the policy we've been pursuing in Government to deal with this huge black hole in our public finances, which we have to fill one way or another because we can't simply ask our kids and our grandchildren to pay off the debts and the structural deficit which this generation has built up. In fact the motion we are debating today, Vince and I worked on it together in very many important respects."
Mr Clegg suffered a setback in two polls of current Lib Dem supporters. A YouGov survey for the Independent found 36% of those who say they would vote for the party believe it has changed for the worse since the 2010 election, with just 20% saying it has got better. And among those who voted Lib Dem at the last election, an overwhelming 59% said the party had got worse, compared with 9% saying it has improved since joining Conservatives in coalition. Meanwhile, almost three-quarters of people identifying themselves as Lib Dem voters in a separate survey by OnePoll for Daybreak said Mr Clegg was not a good leader, and more than half (57%) said he should stand down before the 2015 election.
Mr Clegg told Daybreak: "I totally accept that there are some people who think we shouldn't have entered into the coalition in the first place in 2010, but if we hadn't done and unemployment had gone up and the economic situation had got worse and we hadn't played our role in setting the economy right, I suspect a lot of people now would be accusing us of bottling out. I think we were right to step up to the plate and roll up our sleeves, however much it's clearly hit our short-term popularity, because without us the economy would not now be recovering. It was because of our resolve, our resilience, because we stuck to the plan of dealing with the black hole in the public finances left by Labour that things are now finally getting better."
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Mr Clegg refused to say whether he would prefer to forge a coalition with Conservatives or Labour if the next election results in a hung Parliament. "I'm not the one to answer that," said the Lib Dem leader. "It's the British people who are going to give me and the other party leaders our marching instructions after the next election. Ed Miliband, David Cameron, me - we are not the people to decide how the next government is composed. The people who decide that are the millions of people who will vote in the election of May 2015." He added: "I would certainly ensure, if we were in a coalition with Labour, that we would keep them on the straight and narrow on the economy, just as within the coalition with Conservatives we make sure that we are doing things to promote fairness which never would happen if the Conservatives were in power on their own." Mr Clegg dismissed suggestions that he would demand the removal of shadow chancellor Ed Balls from his post as part of the price for sealing a coalition deal with Labour. "It's not for me to tell other parties how their team is composed, just as it's not for the other parties to tell the Liberal Democrats what the composition of our team is," he said.