Nick Clegg took a swipe at his Conservative coalition partners today, as he claimed the Liberal Democrats were "the only party that can speak credibly about creating jobs".
Addressing a rally of activists at the Liberal Democrat annual conference in Glasgow, the Deputy Prime Minister claimed credit for blocking Tory-backed plans to make it easier for bosses to fire workers, which aides said would have led to a massive increase in insecurity and many more people losing their jobs.
Prime Minister David Cameron and other Tory ministers have repeatedly hailed the creation of 1.4 million private sector jobs as a key achievement of the coalition Government.
The Lib Dem leader took a swipe at his coalition partners
But Mr Clegg appeared determined to seize the plaudits for employment growth for his own party, as he launched a campaign to create a million more jobs. He branded the Tories "the party of fire at will" and said that without opposition from the Lib Dems, "bizarre" reforms to employment law proposed by venture capitalist and Tory donor Adrian Beecroft would have become law.
Aides said that Mr Clegg's comments were part of a strategy, in the remaining 20 months before the 2015 general election, of being "bold about taking credit" not only for the Lib Dems' achievements in office but also for the occasions when they have reined back Conservative ambitions.
Meanwhile, Lib Dem President Tim Farron raised concerns about Chancellor George Osborne's Help to Buy programme for home-buyers, telling the conference: "We still face the danger of a re-inflating housing market, unsustainable growth fed by cheap credit and real growth thwarted for want of skills."
Speaking to the Press Association, Mr Clegg said he would use the conference to set out "a number of very distinctive ideas which set us apart from the Conservatives" on the economy, as he sets out his position that Lib Dems will be the only party at the next election offering both a stronger economy and a fairer society.
Lib Dem sources have admitted that as many of 75% of voters are unlikely to even consider backing the party in 2015.
But Mr Clegg said he believed his message would be "attractive to many people in what I call the liberal centre ground of British public opinion".
"We are a guarantee that any government of which we are a part will always be anchored in that liberal centre ground," he said.
The conference started today with the announcement of a distinctively Lib Dem-influenced Government policy to impose a 5p charge on plastic carrier bags from autumn 2015. Mr Clegg indicated that the policy had faced Tory resistance, saying that there were "debates in Government" before it was agreed.
Energy minister Ed Davey said that none of the cash will go to the Government, as the scheme was designed to protect the environment, not raise revenue. But Government sources acknowledged that supermarkets will be free to decide whether to pass the money on to charity or keep it for themselves. Mr Clegg said the Government had been in talks with retailers about donating the money and believed they were "supportive" that it should go towards environmental charities.
He urged activists hitting the doorsteps ahead of next year's European polls and the 2015 election to show they were "proud" of the Lib Dem record in power and to remind voters of "what sets us apart" from other parties.
"I want you to join me in getting back out there and telling everyone this: we are the party of fairness; we are the party of freedom; and, yes, we are the party of jobs," he told tonight's rally.
"The coalition Government has created a million jobs, and I want us to create a million more: a million jobs for a stronger economy.
"And, bluntly, we are the only authentic party of jobs. The only party that can speak credibly about creating jobs and jobs that last."
Conservatives had "the bizarre idea that to create more jobs you need to create insecurity", said the Lib Dem leader. "They aren't the party of jobs, they are the party of fire at will."
The Beecroft package was "dreamed up by a Conservative donor without a shred of evidence to back it up, so we said No," he said.
"Without us taking a stand in government, it would have happened. Without us, job security would have been a thing of the past, with employers able to get rid of staff on a whim."
In another jibe at Tories, he promised that Lib Dems would "never sacrifice proper working conditions for the sake of a few easy headlines about 'red tape'".
And he said: "Some Conservatives also seem to think that a job in the private sector somehow has more merit than someone working as a nurse or a teacher. But we know that you shouldn't divide public and private sector workers as if only jobs in the private sector matter."
Mr Clegg called on Labour leader Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls to "apologise for being too busy schmoozing the bankers to worry about the risks they were taking with the economy. Apologise for not balancing the books in the good times. Apologise for abolishing the 10p tax rate."
Mocking Mr Miliband's predictions that the coalition's austerity programme would cost jobs, he asked: "Have you noticed how miserable they look when unemployment goes down? In the same way they gambled on an endless boom when they were in government they prayed for an endless recession when they were in opposition."
Lib Dems will fight the next election as "the party of jobs", said Mr Clegg, telling activists: "The Liberal Democrats have a proud story to tell on jobs and the economy.
"We can tell people how we took the right decisions in government to make sure interest rates were kept down and protected people from the economic crises we have seen elsewhere in Europe. And we can point to our record of action in government to show how we have worked tirelessly to create jobs even in the tough times."
Launching a sharp attack on the Home Office's 'Go Home' immigration billboard campaign, Liberal Democrat chief whip Alistair Carmichael told a rally at his party conference that a few weeks ago, the Glasgow UK Border Agency office was home to one of the posters.
He said: "Crass... insulting, disrespectful, disgraceful. They are gone now.
"I don't want to see them coming back. Here in Scotland, we have a proud history of welcoming people in need from other parts of the world.
"These posters have no place in our community. That is why I am so proud Michael Moore and Nick Clegg have told the Home Secretary in no uncertain terms, the Liberal Democrats will not be playing along with her attempts at headline grabbing gimmicks like this.
"It matters particularly because stunts like that play straight into Alex Salmond's hands."
Business Secretary Vince Cable told activists of "tensions" with Conservatives inside the coalition over the Government's policy on energy and climate change, which had held Lib Dems back from more ambitious policies on cutting carbon emissions.
Mr Cable told a fringe meeting at the Glasgow conference: "There is no point disguising the fact that we have had a very tense relationship with the Tories on that issue and we haven't got all we wanted."
He added: "On the Tory side, it isn't the primitive climate change denying stuff or even petty stuff around windmills in your back garden - though that sort of thing does go on - but it is about the cost.
"The Tory argument is not that green is a bad thing, but that it is expensive and somebody has got to pay, and they are resisting it on those grounds.
"The argument on our side is that that may be true in the short term, but you have got rapidly falling costs in many of these industries. The more you do, the more the costs fall. We have seen this most dramatically in the case of solar. Solar is falling rapidly to competitive levels, and it almost certainly will happen with offshore wind.
"There is a tension in policy, there is no point disguising it, and the Tories have tried to resist ambitious target-setting on decarbonisation. We are operating with one hand tied behind our backs."