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Lib Dems: 'overwhelming' support for Tory coalition

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 16 May 2010

The Liberal Democrats say a special conference of party members has given "overwhelming" support for last week's deal to set up a coalition government with the Conservatives, despite the opposition of a former party leader.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg (Credit: Getty)

Activists had been expected to criticise the agreement at the special conference in Birmingham, which was closed to the media.

The two thousand delegates had no power to overturn the deal. But they could have inflicted embarrassment on the Lib Dem leadership by changing the motion that endorsed the deal.

But party sources said the coalition agreement had been opposed by no more than a dozen delegates in a show of hands.

Critics had received a boost before today's conference when former party leader Charles Kennedy told The Observer that he had abstained during a late night meeting on Tuesday.

Mr Kennedy said he had wanted further exploration of a potential deal with Labour, and said he favoured a Conservative minority government with the Lib Dems remaining in opposition.

"Certainly they drive a strategic coach and horses through the long-nurtured 'realignment of the centre-left' to which leaders in the Liberal tradition - this one included - have all subscribed since the Jo Grimond era.

"It is hardly surprising that, for some of us at least, our political compass currently feels confused. And that really encapsulates the reasons why I felt personally unable to vote for this outcome when it was presented to Liberal Democrat parliamentarians."

But the new deputy prime minister was given a warm welcome as he arrived for the conference.

Speaking after the vote, Mr Clegg said "the stakes are high - for me personally, as well as the party".

But he said: "I came into politics to change things, and that means taking risks."

On Tuesday night, Mr Clegg had obtained a 75 per cent majority among Lib Dem MPs and the party's federal executive in support of the coalition, which had meant cabinet places for him and four colleagues.

But the deputy prime minister had admitted yesterday the coalition deal, agreed Tuesday, had caused "both surprise and with it some offence" to some Lib Dems.

Mr Clegg insisted he had no other responsible option.

Despite the doubts from some Lib Dem activists, David Cameron insisted today that Mr Clegg will be part of his "inner circle" in the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government.

The prime minister said he has told senior ministers to learn from the expertise of the other party.

Mr Cameron also said Mr Clegg could play a role in appointing and sacking ministers.

But he also said a more detailed agreement was needed within the next two weeks with the Lib Dems to cover the coalition government's policies.

"We already have a very good coalition agreement ... we were able to look at the difficult areas of policy and agree those first, things like Europe and immigration and taxes, we have already done the heavy lifting," Mr Cameron told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

"We need a fuller coalition agreement covering other policy areas as well ... there will be a longer form document out in the next couple of weeks."

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