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Cable to miss key economy debate
Tensions between Nick Clegg and Vince Cable over economic policy have broken into the open as the Liberal Democrat leader appeals for activists' backing on the key issue.
Mr Clegg will take the unusual step of speaking in favour of a party conference motion that endorses the coalition's strategy and fiscal mandate.
But his Business Secretary will not take part in the debate in Glasgow - despite earlier suggestions that he would. Aides also refused to confirm whether Mr Cable would vote in favour of the motion, indicating that he believed it could be "improved".
The apparent divisions emerged after both Mr Clegg and Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander rebuffed Mr Cable's call for the Government's flagship Help to Buy scheme to be limited to avoid fuelling a housing bubble. Mr Cable has suggested the initiative, which will underwrite home purchases for those with only a 5% deposit, should be restricted to parts of the country with depressed property prices.
Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, the Deputy Prime Minister said it was right to be "vigilant" about housing bubbles, but added: "Clearly in parts of the country - notably central London - the housing market is now marching forward, but you can't set a national policy... based only on what happens in Kensington and Chelsea. You have to think about all the other households."
Mr Alexander said the concerns of the Business Secretary - who represents Twickenham in south-west London - would simply not be recognised across most of the rest of the country. "We are a million miles away from a housing bubble in this country," he told Sky News' Murnaghan programme. "I don't think we should allow the tail of central London to wag the dog of this policy."
The motion, Strengthening the UK Economy, invites activists to "reaffirm support" for the coalition's fiscal mandate - which says the Government's books should balance by 2017-18. Pensions minister Steve Webb will propose the motion, while Mr Clegg will sum up - the first time a Lib Dem leader has chosen to speak in such a debate for more than six years.
But activists have put forward amendments that urge a "rebalancing" of the fiscal mandate "to give greater support for measures that raise employment and growth". There are also demands for a dramatic increase in housebuilding, financed in part by removing council borrowing limits so they can spend more. Another suggested change urges adjusting the Bank of England's mandate so it targets boosting household incomes.
A source close to Mr Clegg confirmed the leadership would accept an amendment calling for Lib Dem policy beyond 2015 to be based on higher capital investment, rebalancing the economy, and raising more money from 'wealth taxes' such as the mansion tax. The source insisted he was confident about defeating the other changes, warning that they would lead to higher government borrowing. The amendments would not be binding on Mr Clegg, but losing any of the votes would be highly embarrassing.
Mr Cable had been widely expected to speak in favour of the motion, the text of which was apparently hammered out during an away day for Lib Dem ministers in Milton Keynes over the summer. But the source confirmed he would not be taking part, pointing out that he was due to give a speech to conference shortly afterwards. The source denied reports that Mr Clegg had asked the Business Secretary to speak in the debate.