Clegg's closing speech keeps city Lib Dems happy
BRISTOL's Liberal Democrats have declared themselves satisfied with their leader after he rounded off their party conference.
Nick Clegg's closing speech in Brighton yesterday included a dig at North Somerset MP Liam Fox, a promise of extra money to help children struggling at school, a warning of tough economic times ahead and a suggestion that anyone not happy with his party should vote for someone else.
The Deputy Prime Minister was given the customary standing ovation as he finished – but the biggest cheer came when he announced that former party leader Paddy Ashdown would run the Lib Dems' 2015 General Election campaign.
Mr Clegg said: "The choice between the party we were, and the party we are becoming, is a false one. The past is gone and it isn't coming back. If voters want a party of opposition – a 'stop the world I want to get off' party – they've got plenty of options, but we are not one of them."
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Central to Mr Clegg's speech was a claim that proving the party could manage the economy better than Labour and more fairly than the Tories would reap electoral reward.
In a reference to Dr Fox's call to make it easier for companies to fire staff, Mr Clegg said: "The idea that if government just deregulated a bit more, as Liam Fox proposes, or borrowed and spent a bit more as Ed Balls proposes, we would, at a stroke, achieve strong and lasting growth, is just not credible. In my experience, if you're being attacked by Liam Fox from one side, and Ed Balls from the other, you're in the right place."
Mr Clegg promised that more than 1,000 struggling 11-year-olds at schools in the Bristol area will be given extra help to stop them being left behind. Secondary schools will receive a £500 'catch-up premium' for every pupil deemed to be falling behind when they leave primary school, he said.
The new payment would apply to about 1,200 children in Bristol and the surrounding areas who fail to achieve Level Four in their Key Stage 2 exams, taken at the end of primary school.
The announcement comes after ministers unveiled a new, tougher qualification to replace GCSEs from 2015 and Mr Clegg used his speech to try to reassure parents who may be "worried by talk about making exams tougher".
He said: "We will do whatever it takes to make sure your child is not left behind."
The first allocations will be made in January, for every pupil failing to achieve Level Four in either reading or maths.
After the speech Andy Morgan, the chairman of Bristol Lib Dems, gave his leader "seven or eight out of ten".
Mr Morgan said: "I thought it was very good. It was a slightly different tone – more realistic than the average end-of-conference speech – and more hard-hitting."
Jon Rogers, the party's Bristol mayoral candidate, said: "It was a very uplifting conference, and it really recharged my batteries."
The speech rounded off a tough few days for the party, including a backlash from Mr Clegg's apology over tuition fees, while party members voted to oppose the government's controversial planning reforms.