Further benefit cuts must be balanced by extra taxes on the rich, Nick Clegg said today as he sought to bolster his leadership at the start of a potentially difficult Liberal Democrat party conference.
The Deputy Prime Minister put "fairer" taxation at the heart of the party's message at the Brighton gathering which opens today - and signalled he would make higher levies on wealth a condition of accepting further Tory-led cuts.
Amid rumblings over his position, poor party and personal opinion ratings and discontent with the coalition, Mr Clegg also insisted he intended to lead the party into and beyond the 2015 general election, accusing critics of losing their nerve.
He launched a staunch defence of his decision to issue a frank apology for the party's broken pledge not to raise student fees - which he said would be appreciated by "reasonable people" despite being widely lampooned.
And he stoked coalition tensions over environmental policy, declaring "mixed signals" were inhibiting economic growth as Liberal Democrat Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander complained of a Conservative "constant war of attrition".
In an interview with The Independent, Mr Clegg ruled out the two-year blanket freeze on state benefits reportedly being considered by the Treasury in a bid to rein in spending amid continued poor economic figures.
"I have seen that mooted. It is not on the cards," he insisted in a bid to reassure party activists.
And while further savings in the welfare bill were inevitable as the Government struggled to balance the books, the Liberal Democrats would not allow them to reach the £10 billion sought by Chancellor George Osborne, he said.
"The Conservatives appear to be saying they want it all to fall on welfare. That's totally unacceptable to me.
"They are not going to take all of that £10 billion out of welfare. I am not saying you can leave welfare untouched because it is a third of total public spending.
"But the idea that you ask welfare to take all of the strain is something I will not allow to happen."
A "mansion tax" on £2 million-plus properties is already party policy but a review, due to report back at next year's conference, is examining other options for clawing more money back from the better off.
Mr Clegg came under fire in March for allowing a Budget reduction in income tax on the highest earners from 50% to 45%.
In his first appearance at the conference - which has the slogan "fairer tax in tough times" - Mr Clegg will urge party members at an evening rally to help revive the party's popularity by delivering three million leaflets.
"I want to reward people who put in a proper shift, not those who sit on a fortune. People for whom a bonus means a few extra quid at Christmas not a million pound windfall," he will tell the rally.
"It is no secret that we have different priorities to our coalition partners, I can do my bit around the Cabinet table, but most of the seats at that table are occupied by Conservatives, not Liberal Democrats.
"So I need you to do your bit the old fashioned way: getting out there and campaigning. You should have been given a leaflet about our campaign for fairer taxes. By the end of the year I want you to deliver three million of them."
As he prepared to confront party discontent, Mr Clegg said speculation over his position was inevitable but that he considered it proof that he was doing the right thing.
"The worst thing to do when are on a difficult political journey is to lose your nerve and bale out. This is why I am determined to lead the party through the journey - from the beginning, middle to end," he told the newspaper.
"That means leading the party through the election and beyond."
He added: "One of the signs of strong leadership is that you have people shouting at you from the sidelines. If everyone agreed in the party, I would be failing in my job. I have never been an insipid leader."
Reactions in Westminster to Mr Clegg's apology were mixed and one website turned the two-and-a-half minute film into a song that is now being released as a single - endorsed by Mr Clegg to raise cash for a Sheffield children's hospital.
"Of course people are going to sneer, mock and say it is not good enough," he said.
"I just genuinely thought what we did was wrong and I should apologise for it. I just hope that reasonable people - whether they have heard it to music or not - will think OK, fair enough, he's come clean."
As part of a concerted effort to display differences from the senior coalition partner, Mr Alexander joined opposition to a freeze on out-of-work benefits and questioned the need for £10 billion of extra welfare cuts.
And the senior cabinet minister, who will lead the debate on a conference motion on Tuesday highly-critical of the Chancellor, made his strongest attack yet on Mr Osborne and Tory MPs in an interview with The Guardian.
They were risking billions in investment by becoming a "blue roadblock to green growth", he said, accusing some Tory backbenchers of being "luddites" who believe climate change is a myth.
Among other businesses on the opening day of the conference will be an announcement by Schools Minister David Laws that the pupil premium will rise to £900 per pupil next year.
Despite admitting this week that the use of funds from the Government's flagship policy was "not good enough", he will hail it as a Liberal Democrat-inspired boost for pupils from poor families.
It is Mr Laws' first party conference speech after making a frontbench comeback in the reshuffle, two years after being forced out over the misuse of taxpayer-funded expenses.