By Ian Dunt
The Liberal Democrats took a while to "get their act together" in May, the party's deputy leader has admitted.
Speaking at the start of the party's local election campaign in Bradford, Simon Hughes insisted the coalition was a "business relationship" rather than a "love affair".
He said: "The coalition agreement is not a love affair, or a marriage or even a meeting of minds. It is a practical business relationship.
"It is an agreement for five years, because we need five years to deal with the deficit, to rebuild our economy and make Britain a fairer place.
"It is an agreement for actions we have started, and so we'll finish. To do otherwise would be irresponsible," he added.
"To be honest it took us some time after May to get our act together and make the most of the opportunities of being in government.
"But now we have done that and the public are hearing more and more about the differences Liberal Democrats are making in government, and seeing more and more the differences between a coalition government with Liberal Democrats fully participating and the only realistic alternative last year, which was a minority Conservative government - which could have become a majority Conservative government at any time."
Mr Hughes has walked a fine line during his stint as deputy leader. By expressing his own views publically he acts as a cipher for ordinary Lib Dem members, who remain deeply uncomfortable with many of the policies emerging from the coalition.
That persona also allows him to make frank speeches such as the Bradford speech.
But his approach is unlikely to prevent a wipe-out of the Lib Dems at the upcoming local elections, when voters are expected to punish the party for entering into coalition with the Conservatives.