Damaging tribute? Hague singles Clegg out for praise

By Ian Dunt

William Hague offered a ringing endorsement of Nick Clegg during his conference speech today, in a move which will be met by groans at Lib Dem HQ.

While many senior figures at the Lib Dem conference wasted no chance to criticise their Conservative colleagues last month, the foreign secretary instead showered the deputy prime minister with praise.

"Faced with a necessary but difficult decision over tuition fees, Nick Clegg stuck with it," Mr Hague said.

"In May, the British people affirmed…that first past the post is the best way of running our democracy. He stuck with our agreement all the same.

"We should always have the generosity of spirit to recognise the contribution he makes to turning this country around."

Whether genuine or not, the praise will not be welcomed in Lib Dem HQ, where strategists have been busy emphasising the party's role as an obstacle to more right-wing Conservative policies.

Mr Hague also singled out David Cameron for praise, offering a gushing tribute to the "strength, determination and decisiveness of our prime minister".

"He has a strong sense of what is right, and brings a driving energy and ambition to achieving it. We are fortunate at such a difficult time, that truly we have leadership for a better future," he added.

Mr Hague's assessment of Ed Miliband was somewhat more critical, recalling his own difficult days as party leader after the New Labour landslide.

"I know what it is like to lead a party fresh to opposition. And I know I made some mistakes," he said.

"But whatever you do you have to tell your party when it needs to change, as we have done. Labour's leaders won't do that – they are still insisting that what they did to our economy was right all along, even though they are the only people left in the country still under that delusion."

Delegates are at the Tory party conference in Manchester through the early half of next week.