LONDON Nick Clegg pledged on Sunday to take a tougher line on issues like health service reform and tax breaks for the poor after a drubbing in local elections.
The Lib Dems suffered their worst result in local elections for two decades and saw their hopes of voting reform dashed in polls last week, prompting some supporters to question the merit of the year-old coalition with the larger Conservative Party.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said his party would not walk away from Britain's first coalition government since World War Two. Clegg and Chancellor George Osborne said there should be no deviation from austerity measures to tame the budget deficit.
"We went into coalition for reasons that I think still stand. The country was, in some respects still is, in economic crisis," Clegg told BBC TV's Andrew Marr show.
Dismissing calls from some local Lib Dems politicians to quit, Clegg said his party had to do a better job of explaining its influence on the Conservatives as it tastes power after decades in the political wilderness.
"The lesson I have learned listening to people on the doorsteps is that people want a louder Liberal Democrat voice in government," he said.
The Lib Dems have fallen out of favour with voters after an array of policy reversals since entering the coalition government, notably their U-turn on a pledge to oppose higher university tuition fees.
Commentators believe the coalition relationship will be more fractious from now on and policy-making slower as the Lib Dems try to be more assertive after they became the fall guys for public anger over deep spending cuts.
However, markets will be reassured to learn that both parties want to see through plans to virtually eliminate by 2015 a budget deficit that had topped 10 percent of national output.
"I think it would be a disaster to come off a credible deficit-reduction plan that has won the confidence of the world," Osborne told the BBC.
Indicating areas where Lib Dems would speak out, Clegg said the party would press for more to be done to lift tax thresholds for the lowest paid.
He also said the Lib Dem lawmakers could veto plans to reform the National Health Service which would give family doctors control over how billions of pounds are spent and some fear could allow a greater role for private companies.
"As far as government legislation is concerned, no bill is better than a bad one, and I want to get this right. Protecting the NHS, rather than undermining it, is now my number one priority," he said.
The real surprise of Thursday's elections was in Scotland where the independence-seeking Scottish National Party (SNP) won an overall majority in the devolved parliament and now wants to press ahead with a referendum to break from Britain.
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to fight any breakaway and Labour leader Ed Miliband joined him.
"I don't think the majority of people in Scotland want independence or separatism... We will fight for a United Kingdom," Miliband said.
Labour has long been strong in Scotland and a Scottish breakaway could see it shut out of power permanently in the rest of Britain.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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