Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has insisted his party will ‘fight back’ by working together - following a week of speculation on his leadership.
The Deputy Prime Minister, giving his first interview to a newspaper since the local and EU elections, admitted to The Star it had been a ‘very tough week for the Liberal Democrats’.
The party lost all but one of its MEPs in the EU elections, including its representative in Yorkshire and Humber, and six seats in the Sheffield Council local elections.
But the Sheffield Hallam MP said the answer was not for him to quit as leader or for the Liberal Democrats to leave the Government, and that the Lib Dems had increased their majority in several Sheffield wards.
Mr Clegg told The Star: “It’s the most natural thing in the world, like light follows day, that we have to ask some pretty searching questions about what went right, what went wrong and what we do next.
“The majority of Liberal Democrats do not believe theRE should be a leadership contest. We should be talking to the British people right now, not to each other, and what we certainly should not be doing is saying we shouldn’t be in power at all.
“What kind of message does that send to the people of Sheffield and elsewhere?
“We are going to fight back by first making sure that the party now pulls together and unites and doesn’t turn in on itself.
“We have got to put those days of infighting behind us and be even more forceful in explaning that the Liberal Democrats deserve the credit for helping the economy to recover from the disastrous state we found it in.”
Mr Clegg also said there was a ‘trend’ for other parties to ‘constantly talk the country and Sheffield down’.
He added: “But at the end of the day what is happening is there are more people with jobs in Sheffield than ever before, fewer youngsters who are NEETS, more apprenticeships.
“We’ve got a long way to go, we’ve still got a lot of things to do, but I just think constantly talking our city down which is what Labour do, I don’t back it.
“I am incredibly optimistic about our country and the future of Sheffield.”
Pointing to the voter results from the local elections, Mr Clegg also said he had a 14.7 per cent majority, the highest of any Sheffield MP apart from David Blunkett.
He added: “If you take that as a guide it is a better guide than some opinion poll.”
See tomorrow’s Star for the full interview.