Nick Clegg has acknowledged the Liberal Democrats’ decision to enter a coalition with the Conservatives was ‘highly controversial’ for Sheffield voters.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield MP said the party would have suffered if it had gone into coalition with either the Tories or Labour in 2010.
Speaking to activists in Liverpool, he said: “The very act of going into the first proper coalition in living memory was a highly controversial thing to do.
“If we had gone into coalition with Labour it would have been highly controversial with lots of centre-right voters in the South West, in the same way that getting into coalition with the Conservatives is highly controversial in anti-Conservative parts of the country, whether it’s Sheffield or Scotland or elsewhere.”
Mr Clegg added the party had been forced to take ‘very difficult, gory and in some cases downright unpopular decisions’ in order to start balancing the books.
He said ‘whatever the reason’ behind the poor poll ratings for the party ahead of the General Election, ‘there is only one antidote - and that is to proudly and loudly continue to say what we have done and want to continue to do in the future’.
Mr Clegg insisted that the party remained a force where it was able to mount an effective campaign on the doorsteps.
“Here’s the good news, whatever the national opinion polls are saying, where we do that on the ground where we can tell our side of the story - because no one else will - the polls look very, very different, much better, we make the weather and we are going to win.”
The Liberal Democrat leader has warned George Osborne’s future plans for the country’s economy under a Tory majority would be ‘deeply regressive and unfair’.
Mr Clegg is due to use his keynote speech at the Liberal Democrat party conference to say his party are ‘here to stay’.
He will insist that the Lib Dems can defy the odds in the 56 seats they currently hold.
“I’ve heard the predictions. I’ve seen the polls. But let me tell you this: we will do so much better than anyone thinks,” he will say.
“In those seats where we are out in force, making our case loudly and proudly, we are the ones making the weather. I’ve seen it for myself in Liberal Democrat seats across the country.
“We are showing that with hard work, strong local campaign teams and a record of delivering for people in national and local government, we can and will win.”
It comes as former party president Tim Farron warned the Liberal Democrats will be ‘tarnished’ by the decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives.
Mr Farron told the Mail on Sunday that the decision would have a long-lasting impact on the party.
“In 2010, many people said: ‘I am not voting for you because of the (1970s) Lib-Lab pact,’ when I was seven years old,” he said.
“Just think what going into coalition with the Tories will do to our brand over the next generation.”