At an Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors conference in Bristol last weekend he was repeatedly pressed on the wisdom of working so closely with the Blair government.
He retorted: 'Are they trying to swallow us up? Of course they bloody well are. [But] you have not got stuffed in places where you have co-operated. You have gained from it. The lack of confidence in ourselves - that we cannot have a relationship without getting stuffed - is stupid.
'Is it damaging you? I don't see it. [But] don't expect me to run this party by never putting any council seat at risk. If I did I wouldn't be leading you and you wouldn't be going anywhere.
He criticised Labour's best value plans, saying they were 'overly prescriptive and carry a dangerous hint of big brother centralism about them'.
The Liberal Democrat Party is already pushing its local groups to start campaigning for next May's local elections.
Mr Ashdown predicted the vote would be the most open in living memory: 'People's political allegiances are more fragile, and more swayable, than ever. Traditional class politics is dying on its feet.'
The full text of Mr Ashdown's speech is available to LGCnet subscribers. Tel: 0171 837 4402.