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Defiant Clegg makes 'unity' appeal
Nick Clegg has urged Liberal Democrats to attack the Tories as he attempted to draw a line under damaging scandals
Nick Clegg has urged Liberal Democrats to attack the Tories as he attempted to draw a line under damaging scandals and build on the Eastleigh by-election victory.
The Deputy Prime Minister dismissed suggestions he was abandoning the party's core values, and promised to stop David Cameron dragging the coalition to the right.
But he also made clear that there was no chance of borrowing more to kick-start the economy, despite calls from Business Secretary Vince Cable and some party members.
The defiant message came in a keynote speech wrapping up the Lib Dem spring conference in Brighton. The leadership has spent the weekend trumpeting the solid performance in Eastleigh. But they have also been forced to engage in damage limitation over allegations of sexual harassment by former chief executive Lord Rennard - which he denies - and the conviction of ex-Cabinet minister Chris Huhne.
Earlier, activists gave Mr Clegg a bloody nose by overwhelmingly rejecting plans for so-called secret courts. Two prominent party figures - lawyers Jo Shaw and Dinah Rose - resigned their memberships in protest at his "car crash" handling of legislation.
However, the leader appealed this afternoon for the party to display "unity" and recognise that it was achieving great things in government.
"I know some of you have had a quiet fear, ticking away at the back of your minds. The worry that the risk we took was too big," he said.
"No, Liberal Democrats. It may have been a risk, but we took it for the right reasons: to steer Britain through a time of economic crisis; to govern in the national interest; to govern from the centre ground; to build a stronger economy, in a fairer society, enabling everyone in Britain to get on in life.
"And that decision will pay off - for the country, and for us too. There is a myth that governing together, in coalition, diminishes the ability of the smaller party to beat the bigger party.
"The idea that, in Tory facing seats the Liberal Democrats will find it impossible to distinguish our record, our values, from theirs. But that myth has been utterly confounded."