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Lib Dems: Clegg Defends Coalition Role
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has kicked-off the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton by insisting the party is helping to make Britain a "fairer" place.
Speaking to delegates, Mr Clegg promised to stand firm against Prime Minister David Cameron over the thorny issue of higher taxes for the rich, and to fight for the party's values right up until the next General Election.
"One of the most important ways we can do that is by making taxes fairer," he said. "Lower taxes on work and more on unearned wealth. I want to reward people who put in a proper shift, not those who sit on a fortune.
"People for whom a bonus means a few extra quid at Christmas, not a million pound windfall."
But he also acknowledged the Coalition had made mistakes which would leave "scars" for years to come.
Mr Clegg's speech came as a poll revealed his personal rating to be at a consistent low ebb with party supporters - just 23% indicated they are "satisfied" with his performance as Deputy PM.
As well as making promises to supporters, he issued a stern warning that failure to make a success of the Coalition would mean disaster for the party and a possible return to a 'two-party' system.
"This is the first time anyone in modern Britain has experienced a national coalition Government," he said. "We must show them it is a form of government that works well for them.
"If we don't, we will have lost not only the argument for having Liberal Democrats in power but for having a third party at all. The country will revert to the two-party system that has served it so badly in recent years.
"But if we succeed, we will have done something remarkable. We will have broken the two-party stranglehold on British politics. We will have created a new model of modern plural politics for our country.
"And we will have created a platform for ourselves and those that follow-us from which we can go further than we ever thought possible".
Demonstrating his determination to stand firm against Conservative policy-influence in the coalition, Mr Clegg reminded delegates of instances where he had blocked Tory policies, in particular the replacement of Britain's Trident nuclear capability.
He announced that Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander would take charge of a review to find alternatives to the deterrent.
"Danny has spoken out repeatedly about how expensive and unnecessary a like-for-like replacement would be," he said.
"And there is no one better when it comes to getting value for money for the taxpayer. I am more determined than ever to find the right alternative to such a monumentally expensive replacement for a Cold War deterrent."
In another swipe at the Conservatives, Mr Clegg reminded supporters that the Tories did not win an outright majority at the last election. He also warned Tory backbenchers they had no right the steer the coalition towards what he called, a "turbo-charged, right-wing agenda".
"You didn't win the last election," he said. "You do not have a majority. The British people have not given you the right to act like you do."
He also took the chance to pour scorn on Labour, for what he declared was a failed attempt to divert blame for the recession away from the banks, a move which, "nearly bankrupted" the country.
"How about a personal apology from you, Ed Balls, for nearly bankrupting the country after you went on a prawn-cocktail charm offensive in the City of Londo to let the banks off the hook?" he said.
"And how about, Ed Miliband, an apology, on behalf of your party, for dragging our country into an unjust an illegal war in Iraq?"
Acknowledging activists' frustration over the tuition-fee hikes, the alternative-voting referendum defeat and the collapse of Lords reform plans, Mr Clegg said: "There were times in the first half (of the parliament) when we as a party made errors.
"And we've learned some hard lessons. When the second half is over we will emerge with a few scars.
"But we will be able to tell people the things we have achieved. Whether it is in school, in work or in retirement, we are showing people we are a party that shares their values: Fairness; openness; compassion; equality; community; diversity."
The Liberal Democrats conference runs until Friday.