COLCHESTER MP Bob Russell is proud of being one of the coalition Government’s biggest critics from within.

But the Lib Dem backbencher was delighted to welcome Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to his home town to be congratulated on 40 years as an elected politician.

The pair even found time for a friendly game of pool with youngsters at the town’s YMCA.

Lib Dem leader Mr Clegg met Mr Russell’s family and staff at his constituency office, in Wimpole Road,Colchester.

He then moved on to a reception for party activists at the Oak Tree Centre, in Harwich Road.

Since the Lib Dems and Conservatives formed a coalition at Westminster in May 2010, Mr Russell has voted against several coalition policies, including tuition fees and increasing VAT to 20 per cent.

Mr Clegg, 44, told the Gazette he was happy to have 65-year-old Mr Russell questioning his policies. He explained: “He’s an institution, isn’t he? He first got elected here in Colchester when I was four years old.

“I think life would be a lot less interesting if Bob stopped expressing his views and his criticisms.”

Mr Clegg was asked what to he would say to voters in Colchester who had only supported Mr Russell to stop the Conservatives getting into power, only to see the two parties form a coalition.

He said: “It was not Bob or me who decided the outcome of the election. I would have loved to have won it, but we didn’t.

“I think in the long run, most people will respect the Lib Dems for playing our role in a very difficult time to sort out the mess we inherited.”

Mr Clegg also visited Colchester YMCA, in Magdalen Street, to meet some of the youngsters supported by the charity.

After finding out how the YMCA was helping them get qualifications, jobs and new homes, he was questioned by the youngsters about the things his Government was doing to help young people.

He answered questions on everything from the £9,000 tuition fee level for undergraduates to tax credits and benefits.

He added: “We’re about to publish some new ideas about how we’re going to encourage universities to keep fees down as far as possible.”

While at the YMCA, Mr Clegg and Mr Russell played pool with a couple of YMCA residents, before Mr Russell was given a certificate marking his new role as a YMCA Parliamentary patron.

Mr Russell was first elected as a councillor for New Town ward in 1971, aged 25, and served as mayor and later leader of Colchester Council, before becoming the town’s MP in 1997.