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Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg has looked to see off any threat to his leadership as he apologised for breaking a Liberal Democrat election promise to oppose any increase in university tuition fees.
Speaking before the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in
His mea culpa came amid reports he had refused to use an opt-out clause in the Coalition Agreement whereby Liberal Democrat MPs would abstain in votes as the controversial legislation increasing fees to up to £9,000 a year made its way through the Commons.
Mr Clegg apparently wanted to stick by the policy and seemingly turned himself and the party in to a lightning conductor for public discontent.
On Wednesday night, he said he was sorry but not for the increase in tuition fees itself. Instead, he was sorry the Liberal Democrats ever opposed the increase as they had not costed the policy properly.
He apparently made the decision to apologise for the first time while on holiday over the summer. The two-and-a-half minute video clip is to form the basis of a Liberal Democrat party political broadcast on Monday night.
Many voters he had met were "angry and disappointed" at the party's decision to renege on its opposition to tuition fees, he says, adding: "To those people, I say this: we made a promise before the election that we would vote against any rise in fees under any circumstances. But that was a mistake. It was a pledge made with the best of intentions - but we shouldn't have made a promise we weren't absolutely sure we could deliver."
He added: "When you've made a mistake you should apologise. But more importantly, most important of all, you've got to learn from your mistakes. And that's what we will do. I will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it. I accept that won't be enough for everyone. But I owe it to you to be up front about it. And I don't believe it should cast a shadow over everything else the Liberal Democrats are achieving in Government."
The apology comes as some within the party have started to question whether Mr Clegg is the right leader for the party going in to the 2015 general election. Many on the left of the party are keen on the more left-wing Vince Cable taking charge and Labour have been quick to exploit the apparent division, with shadow chancellor Ed Balls declaring the Business Secretary a sensible person Labour would be prepared to work with in future.
Meanwhile, a new poll shows voter satisfaction with Mr Clegg has fallen
from 31% to 23% - his worst ever ratings. The Ipsos Mori Political Monitor also
found that with just days to go before the Lib Dem conference opens in