UK Politics

Clegg: Lib Dems 'clearly influence' Tories in coalition

Nick Clegg has said the Lib Dems are "clearly influencing" their Tory partners amid a row over the parties' respective roles in the coalition.

The Lib Dem leader said you could see "real Lib Dem input" on a wide range of policies to support growth and skills.

David Cameron has rejected suggestions that one party is acting as a "moderating influence" on the other, saying they are working in unison.

Labour attacked the "coalition of convenience" on its first anniversary.

Both Mr Clegg and David Cameron have been reflecting on the first year of the coalition government - the first in 65 years - seeking to highlight its achievements but stressing the scale of the challenges lying ahead.

'Real input'

Mr Clegg said the coalition was "stable and durable" but the arrangement was one of "necessity not conviction" and his party would seek to assert its own identity more clearly in future - becoming more "muscular" and "visible".

The deputy prime minister has been under pressure from Lib Dem activists to wield more clout in government after the party suffered its worst performance in council elections in England for 20 years and amid complaints the party had become a "human shield" for unpopular coalition decisions.

Speaking to the BBC, he said the Lib Dems had already had a major impact on the direction of the government.

"One party in a coalition clearly influences the other. That is clearly the case," he said.

He suggested it was his party who had insisted the government was equally focused on "rebalancing" the economy to spread economic growth more widely in future as it was on cutting the deficit.

"Do you think the reforms we are going to introduce in banking would have happened without Lib Dems in government? I wonder," he said.

"Do you think the green investment bank would have been set up in the way it has without Lib Dems in government? I wonder. Do you think the regional growth fund - £1.4bn directed precisely at the communities in the north east and west (of England) - would have happened without Lib Dems in government? I doubt it.

"Do you think 250,000 more apprenticeships, led by a Lib Dem secretary of state Vince Cable, would have been delivered without Lib Dems in government. I wonder."

"On all of those issues I think we can see real Lib Dem input."

Clearer identities

In his speech earlier, Mr Clegg sought to address the accusation the Lib Dems had backtracked on manifesto pledges, including its promise not to support a rise in tuition fees.

"I know that there has been a lot of anger about this issue," he said.

"But you can't be in favour of coalition politics and against the compromises that coalition necessarily entails. You can't deliver 100% of your manifesto when you have 8% of the MPs."

The deputy PM also signalled that the coalition was entering a new period in which he would relish the opportunity to make the "Lib Dem imprint and influence more visible".

"In the next phase, both partners will be able to be clearer in their identities but equally clear about the need to support government and government policy," he said.

"You will see a strong liberal identity in a strong coalition government. You might even call it more muscular liberalism."

'Betrayal'

Asked what "muscular liberalism" meant, Lib Dem president Tim Farron said it entailed talking more loudly about what his party was doing in government and "what we have stopped the Conservatives doing".

But, for Labour, shadow education secretary Andy Burnham said the "coalition of convenience" had left the opposition as the only "progressive" force in UK politics.

"Nick Clegg's desperation to show a separate identity comes too late," he said. "From tripling tuition fees to increasing VAT, from letting banks off the hook to slashing police numbers, the Liberal Democrats have sacrificed their principles for a seat in government and the voters have already delivered their verdict on this betrayal.

"Nick Clegg can try to pretend that he is moderating this government but it is clear he is propping up a right-wing Tory-led government that is undermining our economy and destroying our communities."

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