We do not relish cuts, Clegg tells Lib Dems

By Justin Parkinson
Political reporter, BBC News, in Liverpool

Image caption,
Nick Clegg said the deficit could not be wished away

The government has not "relished" planning for spending cuts, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said.

But the Lib Dem leader, speaking at his party's annual conference, argued there would be "nothing fair" about ignoring the budget deficit.

Mr Clegg also said it would be impossible to "build social justice on the sands of debt".

The comments come ahead of October's spending review, which will give details of the cuts faced by Whitehall.

Government departments have been told to prepare plans for making savings of between 25% and 40%.

The conference, in Liverpool, is opening amid reports of unrest among the Lib Dem rank and file over the coalition's programme.

'Catch up'

The Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, promised in a speech earlier to do more to tackle "morally indefensible" tax evasion, as part of efforts to balance the books.

In a question-and-answer session with party activists, Mr Clegg said the deficit had been created by the last government and "You and I can't wish it away.

"You cannot build social justice on the sands of debt. It can't be done."

Party member Jill Hope told Mr Clegg the Lib Dems were "being blamed for some of the cuts while the Conservatives are being praised for policies we brought to the coalition".

He responded that there were "totally understandable growing pains" over being in government.

Mr Clegg added: "I think it's very clear, whether it's our influence on stepping up aid and our commitment to the developing world, whether it's our commitment to political reform, ending child detention, whether it's our commitment to pensioners or the child tax credit, to getting people out of paying income tax altogether, I think our mark is very, very clear to see.

"What I think is taking some time is for the way that coalition politics is portrayed to catch up with the reality of coalition politics."

The government says there is an urgent need to tackle the budget deficit, which was £155bn last year, but Labour says it is doing so too quickly, potentially damaging frontline services and the economic recovery.

Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy also questioned the cuts programme, telling BBC One's Andrew Marr Show: "I do think that you have to scale back the extent of the public sector as a liberal principle, as a matter of fact.

"But the extent to which you accelerate that against the backdrop of do you have a double-dip recession or do you not, that remains to be seen. That's a very legitimate argument to be had."

The Lib Dem conference continues until Wednesday.

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