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Lib Dems 'will not back early spending cuts'

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 13 March 2010

The Liberal Democrats accuse the Conservatives of "playing fast and loose" with the economy as leader Nick Clegg says he will not support plans to immediately cut public spending.

Liberl Democrat leader Nick Clegg (Reuters)

As the Liberal Democrats crucial pre-election conference kicked off in Birmingham, Clegg said he would set out plans for cutting Whitehall expenditure by £15bn a year.

But he warned that "merrily slashing now" would be "an act of economic masochism" as he made it clear that the Lib Dems would not support plans, backed by the Conservatives, for early cuts to public spending.

The Conservatives have insisted that efforts to reduce the government's spiralling deficit through cuts must start immediately, while Labour wants to delay action until the recovery is established.

"Self evidently I think, we think, that merrily slashing now is an act of economic masochism," Clegg said.

"So if anyone had to rely on our support, we were involved in government, of course we would say no, do it sensibly."

The comments came amid intense speculation that the general election expected on 6 May could produce a hung parliament - with the Lib Dems potentially holding the balance of power.

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable accused the Conservatives of "playing fast and loose" with the economy as they try to frighten voters into electing a Tory government.

In his keynote speech to the Lib Dems' spring conference Cable said: "We must and will be fiscally responsible.

"Unlike the Tories and their cronies who want to create a financial panic and run on sterling to frighten people into voting for them on 6 May.

"Playing fast and loose with the financial stability of this country for political gain - destabilising the markets - is dangerous, irresponsible and wrong.

"It is also irresponsible to engage in a phoney war over cuts weeks before an election that will affect the lives of millions of people."

According to recent polls a hung parliament - with no party winning an overall majority of seats in the new commons - could be the most likely outcome in the general election.

If that happens - Gordon Brown will remain prime minister until its clear he cannot do a deal with other parties like the Liberal Democrats. Even if David Cameron's Conservatives win the largest number of seats while falling short of a majority he does not automatically become prime minister. He must wait for Gordon brown to resign, effectively leaving the liberal democrats to tell him to leave Downing Street.

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