UK Politics

Lib Dem conference: Nick Clegg picks his battles

Clegg poster in Birmingham
Image caption Nick Clegg will want to trumpet Lib Dem achievements to activists

It is unusual to arrive at the conference of a party in power to find it openly admitting to disagreements at the top.

"Rows for a reason" is how the party leader Nick Clegg puts it in his opening speech on Saturday where he admits to being "awkward" in government.

His key challenge this week is to strike the right balance, to show that his party is making a real difference in power without evolving into an internal opposition.

Tax burden

Mr Clegg, Vince Cable and Simon Hughes are all talking tough on the 50p top rate, insisting that the priority must be to help the poorest tax payers.

But that is exactly what the coalition agreement says and Chancellor George Osborne has said he too wants to do more to lift the tax burden for low and middle income earners.

The Lib Dem leader is keen to choose his battles carefully.

He is happy to admit to differences with the Conservatives on Europe, the banking system and human rights.

But he believes the key concerns over the NHS reforms have already been met and wants to avoid this conference being hijacked by demands for further concessions.

He'll be relieved that a move to force a vote on the issue later this week has been defeated.

There are some here in Birmingham who want him to go further in standing up to the Tories, to reassert a stronger Liberal Democrat identity.

But although the deputy prime minister is happy to be transparent when there are differences with his coalition partners, he also believes the public want the party to get on with the business of government.

The goal, as the Lib Dem former Treasury minister David Laws put it this week, is to project the Lib Dems as the "engine of the coalition not a brake".

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