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Lib Dems are told to enjoy the power; Clegg addresses doubters at conference.

Byline: JOE CHURCHER , JAMES TAPSFIELD

LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg last night urged party doubters to "enjoy" being in power as he sought to quell internal concerns over his decision to join the Tory-led coalition Government. The Deputy Prime Minister conceded many activists remained nervous and that the joint administration was "not always easy" but insisted it was "finally putting liberal values at the heart of British government".

He launched a staunch defence of the power-sharing deal as he opened a potentially turbulent party conference in Liverpool with a crowd-pleasing rally to launch the campaign for a "yes" vote in next year's voting reform referendum.

Ditching the first-past-the-post system has been a key Lib Dem demand for years, and securing agreement for a public vote on moving to the Alternative Vote (AV) to elect MPs was a key concession from the Tories.

But the leadership faces a series of challenges over policies where difficult compromises were struck, including education and the nuclear Trident system, and a slump in the party's poll ratings has fuelled concern.

"You had the courage to take the leap into the unknown, to take this party to government. Everything that has happened since has proved that you were right to do so," he said.

"I know that being in this coalition still isn't always easy. We are a party that has always advocated pluralism - believing that politics can be better when different parties work together.

"But that doesn't mean that the nervousness some of us felt about going into government has disappeared overnight. The different impulses that, for many people here, pulled heads one way and hearts another, haven't simply vanished.

"But we've done something bold, exciting and unexpected.

"And, as a result, Liberal Democrats, things will never be the same for our party again."

Launching the party's formal support for the "Yes to Fairer Votes" campaign, Mr Clegg acknowledged that even that could fail to satisfy some party members, as AV falls well short of the proportional representation systems they have always sought.

The referendum will be held next May and could further expose tensions within the coalition as the Conservatives will campaign for a "no" vote, and Tory MPs are leading opposition to the date picked for the public vote by Mr Clegg.

A record 6,200 delegates - a 40% increase on last year - have descended on Liverpool to pick over the political fallout.

Meanwhile, top Lib Dem Mike German has called on voters to back giving the Assembly stronger powers in a separate referendum next year, claiming the new system will be cheaper for taxpayers.

The former leader of the Welsh Lib Dems, now Lord German, said the current procedure - where the Assembly has to ask Westminster for permission before passing its own laws - was too time consuming and cost money.

Critics of the current Welsh law-making procedure, known as "LCOs" (Legislative Competence Orders) in political jargon, is too slow and ties the hands of the Assembly Government. In one case it took two years to ensure the Assembly had the powers to ensure fire sprinklers are installed in new homes.

Welsh voters will have the chance to turn the Assembly into a Scottish-style parliament in a vote next year.

Lord German said: "The 'no' campaign will be all about claiming that this is a step too far, whereas in fact it is a sensible step to save money and save time and effort.

"If you think of the amount of hours spent on the machinery of LCOs... the hours we've spent talking about these things could have been put to better use."

CAPTION(S):

POWERFUL MAN: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes (right) arrive at the Jurys Inn hotel in Liverpool, yesterday ahead of the Liberal Democrats annual party conference
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Article Type:Conference news
Date:Sep 19, 2010
Words:630
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