LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s junior coalition partner on Monday rejected calls from party members to relax fiscal discipline and spend more, instead pledging broad support at its annual conference for the government’s austerity-focussed economic strategy.
If a 2015 general election leads to another coalition government, the Liberal Democrats will have to come to terms with one of Britain’s two biggest political parties - the Conservatives and Labour - over how much to continue scaling back the role of the state and resulting spending.
Despite suggestions of a party rift over cuts that some see as too extreme for the party’s traditional left-leaning membership, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg comfortably won the support of the hall for his vision of economic policy with a strong emphasis on reducing the budget deficit.
“If we start messing about with the big goalpost which we’ve stuck in the ground, which frame the stability which is required for further economic growth, we will destroy jobs and decrease prosperity,” Clegg told an audience of lawmakers and party members in Glasgow.
Proposals opening to the door to higher spending and borrowing were rejected by party members.
Current polls forecast a majority win for Labour in 2015 but the party’s popularity has dipped over the summer meaning both Labour leader Ed Miliband and Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron could yet have to rely on Liberal Democrat support to form a government.
In May 2010 after an inconclusive election, in which the Liberal Democrats won only 57 of 610 seats in parliament, both Labour and the Conservatives courted Clegg to become a junior coalition partner - handing Britain’s third party the role of king-maker and giving them a hand in government policy.
Since then, Clegg and his top finance ministry representative Danny Alexander have worked closely with the Conservative party to oversee big cuts to public sector spending aimed at cutting the country’s large budget deficit.
Reporting by William James; editing by Patrick Graham