Clegg to party: keep your cool

City A.M. Reporter
LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg urged party members yesterday not to panic about a slide in poll ratings after he led them into Britain’s first coalition government since World War Two.

Clegg’s Lib Dems have seen their support slump since they became junior partners in the Conservative-led coalition following the general election in May. The government will next month announce spending cuts of up to 25 per cent in many departments as it seeks to erase a budget deficit running at 11 per cent of national output.

Those measures are likely to prove deeply unpopular and some critics say the fresh-faced Clegg, 43, who has now been deputy prime minister for over four months, risks leading the Lib Dems into oblivion.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint. We are condemned to take as a government some very, very difficult decisions on sorting out the public finances,” Clegg told BBC television in an interview at the start of his party’s annual conference in Liverpool.

“You have to hold your nerve and play it long and see the benefits of what we’re doing over a period of time,” he added.

No one expects the Liberal Democrats to quit the coalition immediately, but the partnership could be jeopardised if they fail to secure cherished electoral reform in a referendum next year or perform poorly in local elections.

The left-leaning Lib Dems and the centre-right Conservatives were not regarded as natural partners before the general election in May which ended 13 years of Labour rule.

However, they reached a coalition agreement within five days after the Lib Dems signed up to swift spending cuts, in part because of the financial crisis in the neighbouring Eurozone.

Tension remains. The Lib Dems argued for alternatives to a planned multi-billion-pound renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent, and are also uneasy with planned school reforms and the construction of new nuclear power plants.