Critics praise Clegg ‘speech of substance’

Author: By David Hughes and Ben Padley, Press Association

Throughout the conference there has been speculation about the status of
totemic policies such as abolishing tuition fees and the party’s leadership
has been criticised over the way the “mansion tax” proposal was not widely
consulted on.

But senior MP Evan Harris, who led calls for Mr Clegg to listen to members,
said the leader had learned that he must respect the party’s will.

He said: “The grassroots have, as usual, debated policies with the leadership
because it is the way we do things in this party.”

Mr Clegg had “gained enormously from realising the need to test policy in the
party as well as the wider public”.

Earlier this week Dr Harris, the party’s science spokesman, said Mr Clegg was
a “good leader” but could only become great by realising the need to respect
the will of the party.

Dr Harris said Mr Clegg delivered his speech “in fine style but the substance
was there as well.

“We are a party that is very keen on the substance of policy and we are a
party that debates it openly.”

Work and pensions spokesman Steve Webb had used a conference appearance to
criticise the gloomy tone of Mr Clegg’s statements.

But he too praised the leader’s performance during the conference finale in
Bournemouth.

“He talked about austerity and cuts, but said why they were necessary and
focused on the positive.”

Asked whether he thought Mr Clegg had heeded his call, Mr Webb said: “He
probably worked it out for himself but it was good to hear. It was
uplifting.”

Former leader Lord Ashdown said Mr Clegg had sent activists away with a “song
in our heart and a spring in our step”.

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