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UK: Liberal Democrat Clegg Defends Coalition with Conservatives

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg tries to convince his party that the coalition with the Conservatives had changed British politics.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 3/12/2012, 7:09 AM

Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg
Reuters

Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg addressed the Liberal Democratic conference over the weekend and he had his work cut out for him.

When a party that has perennially been a party of opposition becomes a junior partner in a coalition government, it must navigate a treacherous path.

Many in the party have gotten used to the freedom of being in opposition and adopting positions of principle that were totally attuned to the party's view. Going into the government as a minor partner means surrendering the high ground and having to take responsibility for measures imposed by the senior partner, even those that do not completely conform to the party's principles.

If it plays out well, as it did for the German Social Democratic Party in the "Grand Coalition" with the Christian Democrats in 1965-1969, this could lay the groundwork for actual power.

It can also end up disastrously, as in the case of the Italian Socialists who joined Italy's ruling Christian Democrats in the apertura a sinistra -opening to the left between 1963-1968 - an experiment that backfired badly upon the party.

The first thing Clegg had to show was that the party had not lost its identity. He promised to demonstrate this on taxation, with higher taxes for the wealthy (the group favored by the Conservatives), as well as closing off loopholes that allowed the wealthy to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. He attacked his own Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, for posing a false choice between growth and environmental protection

"Some say we have to choose between boosting growth and being green. What a load of rubbish. Going for growth means going green. The race is on to lead the world in clean energy. The new economic powerhouses - China, India, Brazil - are competing."

Clegg praised party as the only genuine national party

"The other parties are bound and gagged by vested interests. We are not. The other parties are hemmed into certain parts of the country. Look at the electoral map: blue seats in the south, red ones in the north. Look at where the money comes from: trade unions on one side, City financiers on the other. That is why we can say today: the Liberal Democrats are the only true one nation party."

After coming down hard on his coalition partners, the Conservatives, Clegg pivoted and praised the decision to enter the coalition as a turning point in British politics which showed that coalitions, once considered a dirty word in British politics ,could prove beneficial"

. Coalition is working, it is has been tested and it has passed the test.

The voting at the party conference showed that Nick Clegg had not quite persuaded his party. When the leadership sought a vote recommending passage of reforms to the National Health Service, a bill on which the Liberal party had secured concessions from the Conservatives, the motion was defeated, although the conference cannot legally blind the members of Parliament and the Liberal Democrat ministers in the government.