Clegg boosts Lib Dem morale ahead of tough local elections campaign

Nick Clegg has called on Liberal Democrats to be "proud" of their party's achievements at the beginning of a gruelling local elections campaign.

The deputy prime minister visited Stockport this afternoon as he opened the Lib Dems' bid to recover from last year's bruising results.

"Liberal Democrat councillors across the country are working to protect the services that people value most, while Liberal Democrats in the coalition clear up the economic mess Labour left behind," Mr Clegg said.

"Our priority is clear, in difficult times we must make sure we do all we can to help ordinary working people."

Lib Dem blogger and digital campaigns activist Mark Pack told politics.co.uk that 2012 was going to be another "tough year" for his party, however. Last year the Lib Dems lost control of nine councils, taking their total number of local authorities down to just 11.

Further setbacks on May 3rd could be possible after another year of coalition government, with frustration at spending cuts and reforms to welfare and the NHS provoking anger among voters.

Mr Clegg argued that his party is "delivering for ordinary people" by giving nearly 25 million people a £130 tax cut.

"This is the time to be proud to be a Liberal Democrat," he added.

"We've always worked hard and delivered for people locally but for the first time in living memory, we are doing that nationally too."

Mr Pack said that changes in council by-election vote shares had continued to deteriorate into the summer of 2011 but had then begun recovering.

"The edge has come off a little bit on a lot of issues," he said, referring to high levels of university applications and fears of privatisation of the NHS.

"The message is starting to get through."

Mr Clegg also pointed to extra funding for schools through the Lib Dems' pupil premium and the biggest ever cash rise in the state pension to bolster the argument that his party is making a difference.

"My top priority is jobs and growth," he added.

"In Stockport, Liberal Democrats are leading the way with the highest increase in the number of new business start-ups in the north west and the highest number of new 16- to 18-year-old advanced and higher apprenticeships in Greater Manchester."

Stockport represents a major challenge for the Lib Dems. The party lost six seats in 2011 to slip to 31, losing overall control of the council for the first time since 2002.