LIVERPOOL, England Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, trying to shore up support for the coalition, told his party Monday to stick with the government while it rebuilt the economy.
Clegg said deep spending cuts to be unveiled by the Conservative-led coalition on October 20 would spare the country even greater pain and also attacked the "ludicrous pay and bonuses" bankers enjoy.
Activists are warning Clegg that the Lib Dems need to do a better job of explaining their influence on government or take the blame for backing unpopular policies aimed at taming a record peacetime budget deficit.
No one expects the Lib Dems to walk away from the coalition, formed only in May, at this stage but discontent over slumping poll ratings could grow once austerity measures bite and if the party loses a referendum on changes to the voting system planned for next May.
"The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are and always will be separate parties, with distinct histories and different futures," Clegg told the party's annual conference.
"But for this parliament we work together to fix the problems we face and put the country on a better path. This is the right government for right now," he added. The Conservatives and the Lib Dems formed Britain's first coalition government since World War Two after Labour lost power in May's election.
The coalition plans next month to unveil spending cuts of around 25 percent for many departments, an unprecedented assault on spending that could threaten the jobs of hundreds of thousands of public sector workers.
"We could have decided to go more slowly but it would have worsened not eased the pain. Because every day you ignore a deficit, it gets harder to fix," Clegg said.
PARTY MEMBERS BACK CLEGG
Ratings agency Moody's said Monday that the government's commitment to fiscal discipline and the flexibility of the economy meant Britain's triple-A credit rating was robust.
Treasury minister Danny Alexander told a fringe event that cutting the deficit was an essential condition for achieving sustainable economic growth.
In a sign of unease among the grass roots, Lib Dem activists inflicted a symbolic defeat on the leadership on the coalition's policy of granting schools greater independence from local authorities, a flagship Conservative goal.
However, most party members remain strong supporters of the leadership overall, pleased Clegg has taken them into power after decades in which their party was derided as irrelevant.
"He had no choice but to face the deficit issue and he took it head on and was very clear about the origins of it," said Matt Lake, a councillor in north London.
"I think lots of people here have concerns but we also have lots of experience of being in coalition with councils up and down the land," he added.
Lib Dem support has slumped by a third to about 15 percent since the election.
Clegg has urged patience, pointing out that the coalition is only five months into a five-year program.
Tensions remain within the coalition on issues including the construction of new nuclear power plants and replacing the Trident nuclear deterrent, both of which the Lib Dems oppose.
(Editing by Ralph Boulton)