Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has branded critics “people who like protest” and told them to vote Labour, in defiant comments during his party conference in Brighton.
The Deputy Prime Minister revealed his anger after suffering two years of “mendacity” and “bile” from opponents since forming a coalition with the Conservatives.
And he told some of his critics he didn’t want their votes - saying: “We are not the party for you.”
He added: “If people want just protest politics, if they want a sort of ‘I don’t like the world let me get off” party, they’ve got one. It’s called the Labour Party.”
But Mr Clegg also predicted that despite low poll ratings now, his party would regain support before the 2015 general election from people who respected the Liberal Democrats for making “hard-headed decisions” in difficult circumstances.
Speaking to regional newspaper journalists in Brighton, Mr Clegg said: “I think there was a group of people, in fact there always are a group of people, who simply aren’t interested in parties that get into power to take difficult decisions.
“There are a group of people - they are perfectly free to do this in a free democratic society - who like to throw stones from the sidelines, who like to be associated with causes where there’s never a difficult decision needs to be made, who don’t actually like parties being in government. And who always scream ‘betrayal’ when any party goes into government.
“In other words, people who like protest but not the reality of power.
“And I make no apology of saying to those people, we are not the party for you. If people want just protest politics, if they want a sort of ‘I don’t like the world let me get off” party, they’ve got one. It’s called the Labour Party.”
But other critics would respect the Liberal Democrats for making difficult choices, he insisted.
“But if there are progressive people, from the left, the centre, from wherever, who are interested in what it means to grapple as a progressive with a country where the economy has been severely damaged, and where we don’t have any money, and we’re still trying to do things to create not only economic strength but also a fair society, then the Liberal Democrats are a party for you.
“And I think we’re the only party in British politics now which are more economically credible than Labour but socially fairer than the Conservatives.
“Clearly our fortunes have suffered quite a downturn recently, but I think there are many many people out in the country who come 2015 will respect and be attracted by a party that has not only shown that it’s got it’s heart in the right place, as far as what kind of society we live in . . . I think people want a party with the right values but also a party that’s prepared to show that when in power it takes hard-headed decisions.”
The comments come as Mr Clegg prepares to rally his party with a speech to the Liberal Democrat conference. Last week he issued a video apology for promising before the 2010 general election to oppose student fee increases, only to vote for increases once in government.