Be brave and keep your heads high, Clegg tells Lib Dems

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LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg has told members to “get used to protests” as he attempted to ease fears that support for his party is collapsing.

The Deputy Prime Minister opened the party’s Spring Conference in Sheffield last night with a call to delegates to “hold their nerve” as hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside. More than 10,000 people are likely to march at 11am today in protest against the rise in tuition fees and Government cuts. A huge policing operation is under way and is expected to cost as much as £2m.

Protestors gather outside the City Hall, Sheffield, where the Liberal democrats Spring Conference is taking place

Protestors gather outside the City Hall, Sheffield, where the Liberal democrats Spring Conference is taking place

The conference takes place a week after the Lib Dems came a humiliating sixth place in the Barnsley Central by-election. After the drubbing, candidate Dominic Carman said voters could not tell the difference between a yellow and a blue rosette.

The latest YouGov survey has put the Lib Dems on only nine per cent, trailing well behind their Conservative coalition partners on 34 per cent and Labour on 45 per cent.

Labour’s 11-point lead is the largest the party has recorded since the General Election.

Mr Clegg told members they could “keep their heads high” during the opening rally. “Of course, government is very different from opposition. Difficult choices, especially at these difficult times, provoke controversy and sometimes protest. You can’t do everything when you are in power, but you can’t do anything when you are not. With power comes protest. We need to get used to it.

“As we prepare for the May elections there are doomsayers who are predicting the worst for us. They’re wrong. Hold your nerve, keep your heads high. We have a great story to tell.”

A key debate on the Government’s controversial reforms to the health service is expected later today.