The Sheffield Hallam MP offered to answer any question at The Star’s Meet Nick Clegg event at Ponds Forge - including “whatever polemic” the audience could throw at him.
The 130-strong crowd took him to task over increased tuition fees, budget cuts and the axing of the educational maintenance allowance.
But the Liberal Democrat leader gave a strong defence of the route his party has taken since last May.
And he was fiercely critical of Sheffield’s opposition politicians, who he said were guilty of “cynical scaremongering” over the scale of the coalition cuts.
He said: “I accept that not every single saving will be done perfectly and will not always be perfectly justified.
“But I have been, for months, subject to the most outrageous scaremongering from Labour in Sheffield, predicting the end of the world as we know it because of the cuts.
“They have said the streets will not be cleaned. David Blunkett has said we are going to a post-Soviet era where people are going to have to fend for themselves.
“This is insulting. What we are actually doing is rebalancing the economy.”
He claimed that by the time of the next General Election in 2015 public spending levels will only have dipped to 2007/08 levels - a far cry from the apocalyptic vision being presented by critics of his Government.
Mr Clegg insisted that even after the cuts have been made the Coalition will “still be spending five per cent more than Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were when they came to power in 1997”.
He added: “Yes, it is difficult. But it doesn’t help anyone to pretend this is taking us back to the dark days of the 1980s or 1930s.”
The Hallam MP highlighted a range of positive changes he said were entirely due to Lib Dem influence on the Coalition.
He said he was trying to give influence and autonomy back to “great northern cities like Sheffield” after years of being treated as “infants” by the Government.
Constituent Rachel Blundy, from Crookes, asked Mr Clegg if he was confident of winning back his Hallam seat after going back on a pre-election pledge not to raise tuition fees.
He replied that his party had been “stuffed” on the issue of tuition fees.
“People say, quite rightly, that we said we would not do this in opposition. But they are overlooking not only the fact that we didn’t win the election, but we came third.
“On the issue of tuition fees we were stuffed.
“The Labour and the Tory party agreed with each other that they both wanted fees to go up.
“We compromised by going into government with the Conservatives and we then went into the hard work of making it as fair as possible.”
Reader Ann Kingdom, from Millhouses, challenged her MP over his support for a change to the AV voting system.
She asked: “Could it give supporters of minority and extreme parties like the BNP too much influence?”
But a straw poll of audience members revealed an overwhelming support for a change at referendum on May 5.