BRITAIN’S Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg vowed yesterday that his Liberal Democrats would take a more assertive role in the year-old coalition government, after the party took a hammering in elections.
The Lib Dems last week lost a referendum on voting reform and fared badly in local elections, apparently taking the blame for harsh public services cuts while Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives escaped unscathed.
“The lesson I’ve learned listening to people on the doorsteps is that people want a louder Liberal Democrat voice in government,” Clegg told the BBC.
“We need to show people where we have a moderating influence on the Conservatives and we need to stand up for our values and say that loud and clear.”
Clegg signalled his new stance by threatening to derail reforms of Britain’s prized health service unless there were “substantial, significant changes”.
But he said there would be no redrawing of the coalition agreement. He also angrily dismissed a call by Labour leader Ed Miliband, for disaffected Lib Dem ministers to jump ship.
“If they are not in favour of these Tory policies they should stand up for what they believe or leave the cabinet,” Miliband told the Observer newspaper.
Britain’s first coalition since World War II is under strain after more than two- thirds of voters on Thursday rejected the adoption the Alternative Vote system to elect lawmakers, which Clegg had heavily backed.
The Lib Dems, traditionally Britain’s third-placed party in national elections but strong regionally, also had their worst local council results in a quarter of a century.
Clegg had insisted on the referendum as a condition of joining the coalition.
Cameron reiterated that he expected the coalition to see out its full term.
“None of this should break the coalition. Indeed, our determination to lead a successful coalition government — and run it for the full five years of this parliament — is as strong as ever,” Cameron wrote in the Mail on Sunday.
Despite the strengthened position of the Tories Cameron said the partnership with the Lib Dems was “absolutely vital”.
“Some Conservatives might be thinking of celebrating this weekend — a victory in the referendum and much better results than anyone expected or predicted in council elections. My message is: don’t,” he said.
“The real task is still ahead of us.”
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