DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg was in a positive mood as he took to the local election campaign trail on the doorsteps of his Sheffield constituency - and dismissed claims of a challenge to his Lib Dem leadership as “mischief-making”.
There has been speculation that his position at the party’s helm could be threatened by Chris Huhne, energy and climate change secretary, should the Lib Dems suffer heavy local election defeat and the No campaign win the AV referendum.
Mr Clegg said: “One newspaper to the next will want to make mischief. As long as I have been leader of this party, I have heard about articles predicting doom and gloom.
“Of course our critics want to write us off - it’s a tough and challenging time for the Liberal Democrats.”
Mr Clegg - surrounded by local councillors, party aids and protection officers - seemed full of energy yesterday as he made his way from house to house in the sunny streets of Dore, despite having been woken in the early hours to be informed of Osama Bin Laden’s death.
He said: “I was woken up at 2.45am in the morning and I’ve been on the phone to the Prime Minister about it several times.”
He talked of his “admiration” for Sheffield Council’s Liberal Democrats.
“They have been an example to other areas but are having to answer questions about the coalition government. I don’t think anyone seriously imagines Labour would be able to do a better job,” he said.
Mr Clegg said of the AV referendum campaign: “It’s becoming more and more obvious that the ‘No’ campaign is an entirely Conservative-funded exercise.
“I think it’s a pity that David Blunkett has chosen to become its mouthpiece. We’re appealing to Labour voters in Sheffield who don’t necessarily like the coalition to come on-side.
“The Labour Party has always been a party of progressive reform and AV is a progressive change that takes power away from the old political elite. That’s why Conservatives and old figures from the Labour Party don’t like it.
“First past the post worked 50 years ago when most people only voted for one of two parties but moving with the times makes sense.”