Page last updated at 20:54 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

Clegg attacks 'get-rich-quick' UK

Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg returns to the political fray after paternity leave

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has launched an attack on what he says is Margaret Thatcher's legacy of a "dog-eat-dog, get-rich-quick" Britain.

Opening the party's spring conference in Harrogate, Mr Clegg accused both the Tories and Labour of leading the country into an economic crisis.

And he said only his party could create "a new order".

The Liberal Democrats are celebrating their party's 21st birthday at the weekend event.

It was formed in 1988 by a merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP.

And Mr Clegg said it was his experience of the "harsh" and "brutal" 1980s that inspired him to join the party.

'Galvanised'

Addressing Lib Dem delegates in Harrogate's Royal Hall, he said: "We weren't ready to give in to that soulless, unforgiving Britain, that dog-eat-dog, get-rich-quick, look-after-number one Britain," he told delegates.

The conference marks a return to frontline politics for Mr Clegg, who has been on paternity leave for the past two weeks following the birth of his child Miguel.

Speaking from an autocue but without notes, Mr Clegg told party members: "I won't lie, yes I am functioning on just a few hours sleep.

"And thank you to the more honest of you who have kindly told me I look knackered.

"But what I really feel is energised, galvanised, focused."

He said the party would use the weekend to "agree on the best policies for our children and our young people".

'False idols'

But the party is also keen to stress that it has a distinctive message on the economy - such as tax cuts for low and middle income workers - and that it can lead Britain out of recession.

Mr Clegg said: "The false idols of trickle down economics worshipped by Tories and New Labour alike have turned to dust.

Constructing a new order, built on compassion, on social mobility, now falls to us.

Resurrecting Britain's battered economy, this time with fairness at its foundations, now falls to us."

He also paid tribute to his predecessors as Lib Dem leader, and vowed: "Long before my sons hit 21 they will be living in a Liberal Britain."

Recession

Despite positive media coverage of Treasury spokesman Vince Cable's handling of the economic crisis, the Lib Dems still trail behind the two larger parties when it comes to the public's confidence in their ability to steer the economy out of recession, a poll suggests.

The ComRes poll for The Independent newspaper showed that Tory leader David Cameron and Shadow Chancellor George Osborne have overtaken Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling on the economy.

It found 35% now trusted the Conservative duo to steer the country through the recession, with 28% putting their faith in Mr Brown and Mr Darling and 9% opting for the Liberal Democrat pairing of Mr Clegg and Mr Cable.

Mr Clegg will use his set piece speech to conference on Sunday to reach out to families struggling with recession.

He will also call for the directors who were running the banks that have been bailed out by taxpayers to be disqualified from sitting on company boards, something the party says could be achieved without passing new legislation.



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