DANNY Alexander gave his party faithful every reason to believe he had won his battle with the Tories over keeping the 50p top tax rate, but he also appeared to warn them that progress on raising the threshhold at which low earners start paying tax may be slower than they would hope.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury delivered a defiant message to critics of the coalition with the Conservatives, stressing the concessions they had achieved.

Indeed, he used the word "delivering" 13 times in the course of his speech – a conference curtain-raiser at a time of day when a significant proportion of the audience comprised visiting schoolchildren.

He urged party members: "Be proud of what we are achieving in the UK Government. Be proud because we are delivering big changes that are making a real difference to the lives of people in every corner of the United Kingdom.

"Ignore our opponents – we have nothing to apologise for, and a record to shout about."

Defending the cuts he has been forced to implement, he said: "Our plan has real credibility. It is keeping our interest rates at record lows, helping keep people in their homes, businesses in funds.

"We can see from other countries the catastrophic damage done when governments don't have, or stick to, a clear and credible plan."

Hinting at the battle over the 50p rate, he said: "As Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg and I could not have been clearer. Within the tight fiscal discipline that we have set, our priority is to deliver more income tax cuts for people on low and middle incomes." He added: "At a time of austerity, we need to make sure those with the most, pay the most. I've been clear that reducing the tax burden on the wealthy would be the wrong priority for Britain."

Last year, basic rate taxpayers saw their tax bills fall by £200. This April, it will fall by another £126. Mr Alexander said: "We will announce in the Budget how much it will fall by next year. Our goal in this parliament is a simple one. No-one should pay any income tax until they earn more than £10,000."

He repeated the aspiration to raise this threshhold to £12,500 in the next term of Parliament and said of tax evasion and avoidance: "We are clamping down on tax evasion and avoidance. We invested an additional £900 million to scrutinise the affairs of the riskiest groups, and to bring more prosecutions for evasion. People who dodge taxes are on the same moral plane as benefit cheats.

"Whether you are a wealthy person or a small business, a football club or a bank, our message is a simple one. You must pay the tax you owe, and we will make sure you do. "

In an apparent aside on the financial crisis surrounding Rangers that has been sparked by tax issues, he added: "That doesn't mean I don't have huge sympathy for any football fan whose club is in difficulties."

One significant note on the mood of the party, still reeling from the Holyrood election mauling last May, came in Scottish leader Willie Rennie's warm-up speech welcoming Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. "My mum always said keep a smile on your face, smile even if you're in pain," he said.

Mr Rennie added, referring to the up-coming local government elections: "Everyone here has to smile until May. If we are not smiling and confident about what we believe in, no-one else will be confident in us."

Remarking that it was an extraordinary achievement for a Scottish party conference to be addressed by five Cabinet Ministers, he said: "I know the battles they are fighting on our behalf. If we were not there it would be a Tory Government, and you know what happened the last time the Tories were in power on their own.

"I wasn't in the least surprised that Nick Clegg took the 2010 General Election by storm."