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  1. Election 2024
5 October 2014

Why the Lib Dems are attacking the Tories more than Labour

They need to focus on winning tactical votes from Labour supporters to hold on to their MPs. 

By George Eaton

One of the notable features of the Lib Dem conference is how much fiercer the party’s attacks on the Tories are than those on Labour. In his appearance on the Marr show this morning, Nick Clegg denounced them as “economic extremists” for proposing further cuts in welfare without accompanying tax rises on the wealthy. Before that, he told the Times on Saturday:  “I have been in coalition with a party who have mutated almost out of recognition. We went in with partners who told us they were green, but they are not. They told me they weren’t going to bang on about Europe, but it’s all they bang on about. They said they believed in civil liberties and they want to trash them. I can understand why they have done it — they are in a complete blind panic about Ukip.” The message, as one Lib Dem strategist put it to me, is that “the Nasty Party” is back. 

The savagery of the assault partly reflects the need for the Lib Dems to differentiate themselves from their coalition partners ahead of the election. It also reflects the far greater policy differences that exist with the Conservatives than Labour. With the exception of civil liberties and the pace of deficit reduction, there is now remarkably little that the Lib Dems and the opposition disagree on. As I noted in the Times earlier this year, both favour a mansion tax on property values above £2m, an end to the use of unqualified teachers in state schools, a voting age of 16, the removal of winter fuel payments from wealthy pensioners, the avoidance of an in/out EU referendum (unless further powers are transferred), reform of party funding, a 2030 decarbonisation target and the maintenance of the Human Rights Act. 

But there is also a more specific psephological reason for the predominance of attacks on the Tories. Of the Lib Dems’ 56 seats, the Conservatives are in second place in 37. To hold on to these constituencies, the party needs to focus on winning tactical votes from left-leaning Labour and Green supporters (as it has done in the past). By talking up the dangers of a future Tory government, it hopes to persuade progressive voters that the safest option is to vote Lib Dem. But after four years in government with the Conservatives, the challenge it faces is that many will be far less receptive to this message than in the past. 

 

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