Nick Clegg makes his keynote speech at the close of the Liberal Democrats annual conference in Brighton (Reuters)
Nick Clegg makes his keynote speech at the close of the Liberal Democrats annual conference in Brighton (Reuters) Reuters

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has set out his intentions for the 2015 general election by announcing that former party leader Lord Ashdown will chair the Lib Dem campaign team.

In the final day of the Liberal Democrat's keynote conference in Brighton, Clegg made clear his intentions to lead the party into the next general election as well as his ambitions for the rest of the coalition government's term.

Clegg said he couldn't "think of anyone I'd rather have by my side" as he announced the return of Ashdown to the Lib Dems, following his resignation in 1999.

As well as the Ashdown announcement, which has followed suggestions from Lib Dem MPs that Business Secretary Vince Cable would be better suited to lead the party, Clegg also warned his coalition partners there would be "no question" of reducing the 45p top rate of tax further.

Clegg took a further swipe at the Conservatives when he noted they had been "short-sighted" in their promises about the environment.

Clegg told the conference Britain must accept there will be further cuts before the next general election and braced his party for "tough times" ahead.

He said: "At the next election, all parties will have to acknowledge the need for further belt-tightening. That much is inescapable.

"But the key question we will all have to answer is, who will have to tighten their belts the most?

"Our position is clear. If we have to ask people to take less out or pay more in, we'll start with the richest and work our way down, not the other way around.

"We won't waver in our determination to deal with our debts. But we will do it in our own way, according to our own plans, based on our own values.

"So we will not tether ourselves to detailed spending plans with the Conservatives through the next Parliament."

Addressing those who may believe austerity measures in this country have already gone too far, Clegg warned voters of the consequences if his party does not tackle the economy.

Clegg said: "To those who ask, incredulously, what we - the Liberal Democrats - are doing cutting public spending, I simply say this: Who suffers most when governments go bust? When they can no longer pay salaries, benefits and pensions?

"Not the bankers and the hedge fund managers, that's for sure. No, it would be the poor, the old, the infirm; those with the least to fall back on."

Acknowledging the difficulties of being in a coalition government, Clegg said the party was no longer one of opposition, but "one of three parties in government".

"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," he said.

While Clegg defended the latest budget, despite the controversial cut of the top rate on income tax from 50p to 45p, he made it clear that was as far has his party would go in terms of cuts.

"Let me make one thing clear: now that we have brought the top rate of tax down to 45p - a level, let's not forget, that is still higher than throughout Labour's 13 years in office - there can be no question of reducing it further in this parliament.

"All future cuts in personal taxation must pass one clear test: do they help people on low and middle incomes get by and get on? It's as simple as that."

He also dismissed Cameron's attempts to paint his party as environmentally friendly as a "PR exercise" but said the Lib Dems were there to "hold them to their promises" to promote green growth.

"To make blue go green you have to add yellow, and that's exactly what we're doing," he added, to rousing applause.

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