UK Politics

Cameron: Lib Dem coalition job 'not to moderate' Tories

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Media captionDavid Cameron: "There will be loud noises within government from both parties and that is what we just have to get used to."

David Cameron has rejected claims by Nick Clegg that the Lib Dems could be a "moderating influence" on the Tories in key policy areas.

The prime minister told the BBC he did not accept the premise and stressed that the coalition - a year old on Wednesday - was a "partnership".

On Sunday, deputy PM Nick Clegg vowed to be more assertive after his party was hammered at Thursday's elections.

He told Andrew Marr he wanted a "louder voice" for the Lib Dems in government.

"We need to show people where we are, a moderating influence on the Conservatives, we need to stand up for our values," said the Lib Dem leader.

'Prove themselves'

But Mr Cameron said his party's commitment to protect the NHS budget and other things "which most matter to people" showed the party had changed.

"I don't accept the whole idea that the role of one party is somehow to moderate the other," he said.

"The Conservative Party, under my leadership, has changed. It is a new and different Conservative Party."

The prime minister was speaking to the BBC's Political Editor Nick Robinson ahead of the first anniversary of his party's agreement to share power with the Lib Dems - producing the first coalition government for more than 60 years.

He also stressed there was "no question" of well-off parents being able to pay to buy university places for their children and denied that Universities Minister David Willetts may have given that impression in comments on Tuesday.

Asked whether he should apologise to Mr Clegg for the flak that the Lib Dems - who suffered their worst local election performance in more than 20 years last week - were receiving for their role in the coalition, Mr Cameron said: "We work together as a partnership. The Lib Dems have a huge opportunity in this government.

"For the first time in 60 years, they have a chance to prove themselves as a party of government and that it is what they are doing."

The prime minister said he believed both parties would ultimately get the credit for making "unpopular" but necessary decisions.

"If you do what is right - and this government is driven by thinking what is right, what is good for the long term, what is in the national interest - if you do those things I believe at the end of this Parliament it will benefit both parties.

"People will say 'we didn't agree with everything they did but they dealt with the big problems and got Britain back on their feet."

'Precious NHS'

The prime minister defended his handling of controversial proposed changes to the NHS, which have been "paused" pending a fresh consultation with medical professionals - many of whom have been critical of them.

"The NHS is so precious to the modern Conservative Party and to me, I absolutely want to get this right," he said.

He acknowledged that ministers should have explained more clearly how hospital doctors and other clinicians would be involved in the commissioning of care under the proposals, adding that "we can and will do better".

"Inevitably when you make reforms, you are making big decisions, you are making big changes, you don't get all of them right first time. A brave government is one which does not just pile on and say, never mind the critics, we will just carry on," he argued.

"A brave, bold and strong government is one that is strong enough to say 'OK we are going to stop, listen and make sure we get it right."

But he insisted the plans, drawn up by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, were not being ditched.

"We are not ripping it up. We are listening to people, both inside and outside the NHS, who say there are elements of this you have not got right. and we want to get it right before we press ahead."

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