SMITH OF THE STAR: 'I wish I could wave a magic wand...'

NICK Clegg's running late. Staff at his Hallam constituency office are busy in anticipation but it's not easy getting a three-car motorcade - one for him, two black limousines for security - through Ecclesall Road traffic at tea time.

Days earlier the Deputy Prime Minister hosted China's Vice Premier Li Keqiang at Westminster and witnessed the signing of trade agreements worth 2.6 billion.

Tonight people will come to his MP's surgery to complain about the state of the roads and their neighbour's Leylandii.

Welcome to the contrasting worlds of Nick Clegg.

The man a heartbeat away from being Prime Minister has his office in a jumble of partitioned rooms above a plumber's yard in Nether Green.

His official Government residence is Chevening, a 17th century, 115-room mansion by a lake in Kent on a 3,500-acre country estate.

A Liberal Democrat, traditionally the nice guys of politics, Nick Clegg had to do a 180-degree turn on his 'no university tuition fees' pledge.

He has had to deliver much of the bad news from Britain's first coalition Government since 1945 and take the bottomless bile of political opponents, hostile press and protestors.

He finally arrives in S11 wearing that new Head Of Geography smile, blue suit, white shirt and gold tie and looking a decade younger than his 44 years.

It's dusk and there are few people around but even here, within a few feet of his Hallam haven a protestor pops up to harangue him at great volume.

"Eloquence betrayed by treachery Clegg," yells an agitated middle-aged man from between a couple of policemen's helmets at the gate.

They try to calm him but he's having none of it. "Your days are numbered, you're a dead man."

Clegg smiles. It's all in a day's abuse.

He has his picture taken and he's ready. Firm handshake, eye contact, first name terms and an apology for being late.

The he's into his stride on Sheffield Forgemasters, student fees, spending cuts, the privilege, price and pain of power.

But how does he feel after eight months in the firing line?

"Funnily enough I'm very thick-skinned when it comes to all the argy bargy in Westminster and all the brickbats in the press," he protests as the tea and biscuits arrive (chocolate digestives).

"Don't go into politics if you are a sensitive soul and you don't like the latest insult from David Blunkett or the latest headline in the Daily Mail.

"I just accept that as part of the argy bargy of politics."

He pauses for reflection and the hurt is clearly visible in his eyes.

"Of course I'm personally affected by the fact that people I am very proud to represent here in Sheffield, whom I feel it is a huge privilege to do my best for as an MP, feel very strongly that they don't agree with what I've done.

"Of course I wish I could wave a magic wand and create a world were the Lib Dems had won the election then I could deliver every single thing I ever said in the past.

"The fact is that we came third, the fact is that we got eight per cent of the MPs in Westminster. The fact is that the previous Government left us with no money and when you have those sets of circumstances you have two choices.

"You can stand aside, yell from the sidelines and make yourself feel good and feel you are principled in politics or you can get really stuck in and take the really difficult decisions to fix the problems and create a better future for everybody.

"I genuinely believe that when people look at what we are doing in substance - rather than the wild myths, lies and misinformation - I think they will see that we are making compromises for the long term benefit of the country."

"If I thought there was an alternative that I had missed, or a better plan others had, then I would have regrets.

"Every time I ask what we would have done under Labour I get radio silence. When are they going to come clean?

"All the students who have protested and vilified me, can they explain how their graduated tax is fairer than the system we are introducing? It isn't.

"In the absence of a better plan I don't think it would be reasonable to expect me to start beating myself up about it. I have tried to do my best in extremely difficult circumstances.

"There are no easy choices in these things.

"All I can do is take the best possible choice from among those I have available to me.

"You know, it's like in life. You can only do your best with what you've got."'Nasty Nick' can't shy away from the dirty work

HE'S BEEN dubbed Nasty Nick and he's done his fair share of coalition dirty work.

Nick Clegg has had to take flack for the Government's cancellation of Sheffield Forgemasters 80million loan pledged by Labour, has been hammered over university tuition fees, and battered over Government budget cuts.

But he insists that one day people will see that many measures have been forced upon the coalition and that most of them will, in time, be seen to be good decisions.

And he insists he is doing his best for Sheffield.

"The experience of coalition governments in other countries show that the smaller of the coalition parties gets a disproportionate amount of the grief for difficult decisions and we're obviously taking a lot of difficult decisions.

"But I don't second guess for a minute the basic decision that David Cameron and I took with our eyes open that we have five years as a coalition to sort out some really, really difficult problems that we have inherited from Labour.

"I sometimes wonder whether people realise that taxpayers are spending 120 million every day, not on the debt, but on interest on Labour's debts.

"That's money down the drain. 120million a day is enough to build a primary school every hour.

"The best way is for us to be as up-front and open with people as we possibly can early on in our administration.

"I know there are a lot of people who disagree violently with what we are doing but I don't think they can say we are not being up-front about a lot of the difficult decisions."'Sort the truth from the hype'

DON'T believe the hype.

That's Nick Clegg's message to Sheffield as the coalition Government strive to balance the country's books and plan for this city's future.

"There is a huge gap between what people are saying about me and what actually happens," said the Sheffield Hallam MP.

"I have seen some ludicrous suggestions that I'm not here in Sheffield doing my duties as an MP. That's nonsense. I have never, ever shirked in faithfully delivering my duty as a local MP. I feel very strongly about that.

"Sheffield has got a fantastic future. We've got some world-beating industries, particularly in manufacturing, and we are doing brilliantly in some new creative industries.

"All I would ask of people who are very keen to see the worst in everything is to just pause for a minute and accept that there is another side to the story.

"For instance from April 5 every single basic-rate tax payer in Sheffield will be finding 200 a year extra in their pay packets because of our decision to lift the income tax allowance.

"From April 5 every pensioner in Sheffield will discover that their pension will rise either with earnings or with inflation or two and a half per cent.

"This Government is pouring extra money going into Sheffield schools with the pupil premium, we are giving extra money to every disadvantaged two-year-old in this city in a new pre-school entitlement and the delivery of the free 15-hours pre-school care.

"We are putting more money into working people's pockets, keeping money steady for the NHS, putting money into the transport system to resurface the roads of Sheffield, money into housing and into the rail link to London.

"These things really matter to Sheffielders who pay their taxes. We are also trying to make the benefit system fairer so we can get people off benefits and into work.

"I don't think it's fair that some people get more on benefits than people who work.

"I think all those important, fair and positive things are being lost but one of the tasks for me is to show, bit by bit that there is another side to the story."

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