Page last updated at 11:37 GMT, Sunday, 20 September 2009 12:37 UK

Clegg rejects Tory alliance call

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News, Lib Dem conference

Nick Clegg tells Andrew Marr that the Lib Dem's won't play 'second fiddle'

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has rejected an appeal from his Tory counterpart David Cameron for their two parties to work together.

Mr Cameron urged the Lib Dems to join the Tories in a new "national movement" claiming there was "barely a cigarette paper" between them on many issues.

But Mr Clegg insisted in an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr the Tories were totally different from his party.

Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems were the true "progressives" in UK politics.

But he refused to discuss whether he would enter coalition talks with either Labour or the Tories in the event of a hung Parliament after the next general election.

In an article for The Observer, Mr Cameron said the two parties shared the same views in areas like civil liberties, education and climate change.

But Mr Clegg, who stepped up his attacks on Mr Cameron at the start of his party's annual conference in Bournemouth, calling him a "conman" and a "phoney", rejected the Tory leader's overtures.

He questioned Mr Cameron's commitment to environmental issues, accusing him of joining forces with "climate change deniers" in the European Parliament.

And on civil liberties, he said: "There is a profound hypocrisy to say 'we're all liberal now' on civil liberties, when they want to actually destroy one of the cornerstones that protects British liberties in the Human Rights Act."

Mr Clegg has angered left-wingers in his party by calling for "savage" spending cuts and saying he is considering dropping the party's commitment to scrap university tuition fees in order to save £2.5bn.

Former leader Charles Kennedy told the Andrew Marr programme it could lose the party votes from young people and blunt its attack against Labour.

And Evan Harris, a member of the party's Federal Policy Committee, which has the final say on what goes in the manifesto, said the party would not accept any move to drop the tuition fee pledge.

"Leaders of the Liberal Democrats don't always get their way," he told the BBC News channel.

'Life chances'

But Mr Clegg said that although he thought tuition fees were "pernicious", scrapping them may not be affordable in the current climate - though he stressed that the overall education budget would not be cut under the Lib Dems.

And he described proposals by the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, to cut senior staff jobs in schools to save up to £2bn as "extraordinary".

He said it would be "absolute madness to blight the life chances of the young".

Mr Clegg also confirmed that his party wanted to cut the number of MPs from nearly 646 to 500, and to close what he called huge tax loopholes so as to stop ordinary taxpayers "subsidising the wealthy".

The Lib Dem leader has been setting out plans to "cut the cost of politics" by nearly £2bn, including closing 10 government departments and 90 quangos, axing spin doctors and no longer paying the Opposition leader's wages out of the public purse.

The savings would be enough to renovate 200 schools a year, he said.

Quangos

Cutting the cost of politics is one of David Cameron's key themes. The Tory leader has said he would cut ministerial salaries and reduce the number of MPs, as well as slashing quangos.

Labour has also vowed to squeeze Whitehall spending.

Mr Clegg says he would freeze ministers' salaries and cut the number of them on the government payroll from more than 100 to 73.

He would also halve the number of departmental spin doctors.

He told BBC News: "We could save billions by scrapping entire government departments and culling quangos.

"Doing politics differently and saving money means dismantling Labour's spin machine by halving the number of government press officers and making political parties pay for their own special advisers."

The Liberal Democrats went into the 2005 election promising to close eight government departments, including what was then the Department of Trade and Industry, but the latest proposals go slightly further.

Mr Clegg says he wants to cut the number of government departments from 24 to 14.

Quangos he wants to see culled include regional development agencies - a long-standing policy commitment - but also less well-known bodies such as the School Food Trust, Teachers TV, the Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Covent Garden Market Authority.

The document also proposes a reduction in the budget of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency.



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