Page last updated at 13:21 GMT, Sunday, 8 March 2009

Turn to us in crisis, says Clegg

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News,
Liberal Democrat spring conference

Nick Clegg: 'Liberal values must endure'

Only the Lib Dems offer an alternative vision for the future of Britain post-recession, leader Nick Clegg has said.

In a closing conference speech, he said the "one dim light" in the current crisis was that it "opens the door to a genuinely new way of doing things".

But that would not come from the "cycle of red-blue, blue-red government has got us into this mess".

And it was the Lib Dems who now carried the "torch of progress," he told delegates in Harrogate.

And he urged voters to make a "leap of faith" by backing the party.

Mr Clegg has used the two-day spring conference to paint Labour and the Tories as the joint architects of the economic meltdown, by their actions over the past 30 years.

And he has tried to portray his party as the one with a radically different solution to the country's economic woes.

In his 40 minute keynote speech, Mr Clegg shunned jokes and the usual political "knockabout" and focused on help for families to beat the recession and a longer-term vision for rebuilding the economy.

"We will not promise just to rebuild what we had before. We will promise to build it anew, and build it better," he told delegates in Harrogate.

VAT 'pinprick'

The speech did not include any new economic policy announcements, but Mr Clegg repeated the party's plans to scrap the 12.5bn VAT cut, which he describes as a "pinprick", and invest the cash in green initiatives he claims will create thousands of jobs.

We carry the torch of progress now, we exist to keep the flame of hope alive
Nick Clegg, Lib Dem leader

He also reiterated the party's commitment to tax cuts for low and middle income workers, paid for by closing tax loopholes and changes to capital gains tax and pension relief for high earners.

He said: "Let's change taxes so millionaires don't pay less tax on their capital gains than their cleaner do on their income."

He also spoke of the need to take control of the nationalised banks to get them lending again and to ensure that when they are finally returned to the private sector it is under a different system.

"I want a return to old high-street style banks so people's savings are protected from the big risks of investment banking," he told delegates.

He urged an end to short-term bonuses and vowed "those who are responsible for this crisis should be brought to account," saying bankers who steered institutions to ruin should be disqualified from sitting on company boards.

'Spent match'

He rounded on the Conservatives accusing them of wanting to cut public spending which he said would be "economic madness".

And he insisted the "flame" of progress no longer burned for Labour, and that the Lib Dems are the only party capable of rebuilding the country.

"Labour is like a spent match - there's nothing left," he said.

"You remember how hopeful people felt in 1997, remember the promise of a better future? Don't you feel the disappointment?

"An economy in tatters, a country more unequal than before, an illegal war, our government implicated in torture and rendition, our environment poisoned, our privacy invaded, our freedom curtailed.

"If you believe, like I do, in progress, if you feel let down by Labour, and see that the Conservatives will never be a party of change, turn to the Liberal Democrats.

"We carry the torch of progress now, we exist to keep the flame of hope alive."

He ended by saying: "A never-ending cycle of red-blue, blue-red government has got us into this mess - it is never going to get us out. Try something new."



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