Cameron and Clegg hit back at coalition rebels

PRIME Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg today launched a fightback against recent attempts from others in both their parties to undermine the Tory/ Lib Dem coalition.
David Cameron arrives for the European Council meeting in Brussels. Picture: GettyDavid Cameron arrives for the European Council meeting in Brussels. Picture: Getty
David Cameron arrives for the European Council meeting in Brussels. Picture: Getty

After a fortnight where Mr Cameron suffered another major Tory backbench rebellion on gay marriage, and came under more pressure to move faster on an EU referendum, the Prime Minister hit the airwaves defending his policies and insisting that he still has authority over his party.

And in a major speech in London, Mr Clegg, whose own Lib Dem backbenchers are unhapy about child care and welfare reform, said that the coalition would last until 2015.

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The fightback came as the UK government’s economic policy, seen by many as the glue holding the two parties together, came under attack from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF’s deputy managing director David Lipton used a visit to London to question the coalition’s austerity measures.

Nick Clegg speaking in London. Picture: GettyNick Clegg speaking in London. Picture: Getty
Nick Clegg speaking in London. Picture: Getty

Before heading to his latest EU summit this morning Mr Cameron said his task now was to deliver a “sense of mission” that the government was focused on issues that were “squarely in the national interest”.

He insisted that his party is a “broad church” which will have disagreements on issues like gay marriage but he admitted that it had been “divisive”.

On Europe, he bemoaned the fact that his party had managed to have “a disagreement on an issue we actually agree about” - the need for reform and an in-out referendum which he plans to hold by 2017.

Asked if the coalition will survive, he said: “That is absolutely my intention and has always been. This is a government that has an enormous programme of work...

“To anyone who doubts the life the life left in the coalition, I would argue there is more to come, very bold reforming and strong government and that is what we’ll be right up until polling day.”

In his speech Mr Clegg put aside recent criticisms of his Tory coalition partners to say that the “marriage” will not break until the 2015 election.

He said: “This coalition has been remarkably radical. It still has work to do and the best way for us to serve and improve Britain is by finishing what we started.

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“To those voices who say that it would be in either or both parties’ interests to prematurely pull the plug, I couldn’t disagree more.”

But he criticised “Parliamentary game playing” over Europe and same-sex marriage as “an unwelcome distraction” and said it was “time to get back to governing”.

He added: “I cannot envisage any circumstances where my party would think it is the right thing to do to force people to the ballot box before time is up or to start embroiling the country in a general election campaign when we have still got this urgent task at hand, to fix the economy.”

But there was bad news from the IMF.

At a press conference in London, the IMF’s deputy managing director, David Lipton, claimed that the government should slow the rate of its austerity programme by bringing forward measures like infrastructure spending.

He said: “It would be, in our view, useful for the economy for infrastructure and other measures to be brought forward to reduce the drag of austerity measures... and provide more support for the economy.

“The recommendation we have made today are fiscally neutral.

“We’re suggesting that within the multi-year medium-term framework that the government has laid out that it should advance infrastructure spending to provide more support for the economy.

“But that said one has to evaluate the impact on policies on the economy as you go so whether the present medium-term framework turns out to be an appropriate one when measured next year or the year after remains to be seen.”

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Speaking at the same press conference, Tory Chancellor George Osborne said the UK would not “duck its economic challenges.”

Labour’s shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, responding to the IMF’s report on the UK economy, said: “Behind the diplomatic language this is the call for action on jobs and growth that the IMF has been threatening to deliver for many months and a stark warning of the consequences if the Chancellor refuses to listen.”