Monday, November 29, 1999

Britain`s Clegg seeks to pacify party over coalition

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Britain's deputy prime minister has defended his decision to take his centre-left Liberal Democrats into a coalition with the centre-right Conservatives -- a pact party members will scrutinise at a meeting on Sunday.Following Britain's inconclusive parliamentary election last week, the Lib Dems held talks with both the Conservatives, who won the most seats, and the centre-left Labour party, to determine who they would give their support.The decision to join Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives in a formal coalition, the country's first since 1945, has raised eyebrows among left-leaning members of the party who feel their leader Nick Clegg abandoned key Liberal principals to gain power.The two parties have radically different views on several key subjects such as immigration, defence and Britain's relations with Europe.Writing in Saturday's Guardian newspaper before a conference at which the coalition agreement will be debated, Clegg tried to placate party members, saying it had been the only viable option."I know the birth of this coalition has caused much surprise, and with it, some offence," he said."But the truth is this: there was no other responsible way to play the hand dealt to the political parties by the British people at the election."If the Lib Dems had sided with the Labour party, with which it is more ideologically similar, the pair would still not have had enough seats in parliament to command a majority."The parliamentary arithmetic made a Lib-Lab coalition unworkable, and it would have been regarded as illegitimate by the British people," he said.Clegg said that while there had been significant compromise on both sides, and there likely would be more in future, the coalition was committed to a liberal agenda and stressed it was the best way to ensure a fairer society.More than three-quarters of the Liberal Democrats' federal executive and parliamentary party have backed the coalition in a vote required by party rules before the agreement could go ahead.But a special conference of members will be held in Birmingham, central England, on Sunday to consult the rest of the party's membership. While a vote against endorsing the agreement would not prevent the coalition continuing, the lack of support from the wider party would be a blow to Clegg.(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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