Education Secretary Michael Gove said he "hugely admired" Nick Clegg as he raised the possibility that the Tories would hold back in the fight for some Liberal Democrat seats at the next election.
He said Mr Clegg had shown "courage" in backing the Government's decision to introduce tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year, adding that he had "shown the hallmark of a leader".
Speaking at a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, Mr Gove said he admired aspects of Tony Blair's tenure, describing his reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as "exemplary".
He said he also respected some Labour MPs like Frank Field, who has campaigned against child poverty, and Kate Hoey, who has advised London Tory Mayor Boris Johnson on the implementation of the Olympics.
Asked by Channel 4 political editor Gary Gibbon about the decision to form a coalition at the last general election, Mr Gove said: "I admire Nick Clegg hugely.
"He took an enormous risk for his party and he did so because he believed it was in the national interest to do so.
"Of course the parliamentary arithmetic meant a (Con-Dem) coalition was more sustainable than a number of other options he had. I think, and as Conservatives we have to recognise this, that there are frustrations of being in a coalition. I would rather that we had a majority Conservative government because of the things that we want to do faster or more energetically or in a slightly different direction but we can't do because we are in a coalition.
"Nick Clegg said 'we are going to be with you to the end of deficit reduction', and there has been no wavering from any Liberal Democrat ministers and indeed noises from any Lib Dem MPs, and secondly I think Nick Clegg's courage on higher education was the hallmark of a leader."
Mr Gove said he thought the coalition would last until 2015, but that come the next election some seats would not be as fiercely contested as others.
He added: "I think we (the coalition) will go for the full distance and then there will be an election and then we will fight.
"Of course I want as many people as possible to vote Conservative and where there is a Liberal Democrat standing, and there is a chance of a Conservative winning, (I hope) that the Conservative wins.
"But that's the Liberal Democrat take as well - I want my party to win. But inevitably there will be a different quality to that fight and I am not just talking about the Liberal Democrats. Kate Hoey is someone I hugely admire. I think the seat that she represents will always be Labour. There is a Conservative candidate there, I don't think he is selected at the moment, and I will campaign for that Conservative candidate.
"But I can't honestly say that I am sorry that Kate is in the House of Commons and I can't honestly say that my heart would be in it if I was campaigning against Kate as it might be if I was campaigning in Morley and Outwood against Ed Balls.
"I am member of the Conservative party but I am also someone who makes judgments about human beings and there are some members of the Labour party, Frank Field is another ... who are decent people.
"The question of priorities and resources is for the party chairman. My view is that you should go all out to win as many seats as possible but I don't think you should confect hatred or disdain where it doesn't exist."