Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Monday, 21 September 2009 00:00 UK

Clegg 'has made Lib Dems grow up'

Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg has battled party activists over cuts

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has forced the party to "grow up" by facing the need to cut public spending, his spokesman has said.

The party's annual conference is later expected to give the green light to Mr Clegg to go into the next election on a platform of spending cuts.

If the party backs the policy document it will show how far it has come under his leadership, his spokesman said.

It comes as a BBC poll suggests a third of voters could not identify Mr Clegg.

Mr Clegg has angered many grassroots members - and senior figures such as Charles Kennedy - by talking of the need for "savage" spending cuts, possibly including its flagship policy of cutting university tuition fees.


The party is due to debate A Fresh Start for Britain - a policy document setting out the policy framework for the next manifesto, which Mr Clegg has said will end the days when the party fought elections with a long "shopping list" of policies.

The party is expected to back the document, which contains broad principles rather than specific pledges.

But Evan Harris, of the Federal Policy Committee, said his group would still have the final say over what goes in the manifesto - and he did not think it would not include a commitment to cutting university tuition fees.

Only by focusing on children, through policies like cutting class sizes, can we tackle the entrenched disadvantage we have in Britain today
Nick Clegg

Nevertheless, Mr Clegg's aides said that by persuading the party to sign up to the principle of spending cuts he will have forced them to "grow up and join the general mood of austerity".

Mr Clegg has been talking up his commitment to "giving children the best possible start in life" which he has said will be at the heart of the next manifesto.

He said: "Only by focusing on children, through policies like cutting class sizes, can we tackle the entrenched disadvantage we have in Britain today."

Huhne attack

It comes as a poll for BBC Newsnight suggests a third of voters have never heard of Mr Clegg.

When asked what they thought of Mr Clegg, 36% said they had a favourable opinion, 28% said the opposite and 36% said they did not know who he was.

Mr Clegg also received lukewarm support among those who voted Lib Dem at the 2005 general election.

Just one in three believed he would make the best prime minister out of the main party leaders - compared to two-fifths who backed Tory leader David Cameron.

Orb interviewed 1,056 adults from across the UK between September 11 and 14.

Meanwhile the party's home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne made a hard-hitting attack on the Conservatives' decision to form a new Eurosceptic group in the European Parliament.

He will say: "Cameron says he will stand up for gay people, but then allies himself with a Polish party of homophobes.

"He says he cares about human rights, but then cuddles up to a Latvian party that celebrates Adolf Hitler's Waffen SS.

"You can tell a lot about a party from the company it keeps."

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