Further benefit cuts must be balanced by extra taxes on the rich, Nick Clegg has said 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 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, 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 Clegg stoked coalition tensions over environmental policy, declaring "mixed signals" were inhibiting economic growth.
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.
He said: "I have seen that mooted. It is not on the cards."
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.
Clegg 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."