Liberal Surge Is Biggest Shock To Electoral Landscape For Years

(Independent) – FOR THE TIME BEING at least we are in uncharted waters. Never before have the polls put all three parties so close to each other during the course of an election campaign.

An election that last week the Conservatives looked close to being able to win outright now appears to be entirely up in the air. The ground was already starting to move even before Thursday night’s debate. At 21 per cent, Liberal Democrat support was up on last week by two points, while the Tory lead over Labour had fallen back from nine points to six.

But now, in the immediate wake of the leaders’ debate, the Liberal Democrats have gained a further nine points. At 30 per cent they are two points ahead of Labour and only two points behind the Conservatives. This represents the biggest shock to the political landscape since Labour’s debacle in October 2007 over the election that never was.

A hung parliament now appears to be much more likely. But the movements also mean that, despite running third in votes, Labour’s chances of coming first in seats are looking better than at any time since that 2007 crisis.

Even on 30 per cent, the electoral system is still likely to reward the Liberal Democrats with far fewer seats than the other two parties. They might still be slightly below 100 seats. But at the same time, the potential bias against the Conservatives means a four-point lead over Labour could be insufficient to make them the largest party – unless they really can perform better than average in the key marginals.

Two patterns appear to account for the Liberal Democrat surge. First, the party is now holding on to far more of those who said they voted for it last time. According to ComRes, 83 per cent of previous Liberal Democrats voters now propose to back the party again.

At the same time, the Liberal Democrats have won over the uncommitted – the people who tell ComRes they do not generally support any party. A week ago this group was inclined towards the Conservatives; nearly 40 per cent were going to back David Cameron. Now that figure has nearly halved, while no less than 56 per cent say they are going to back Nick Clegg.

Here, perhaps, is a group of voters who, disenchanted with Labour, were going to support the Conservatives as the least worst option. Now, when presented with an apparently more attractive alternative, they have, from David Cameron’s point of view, been prised away all too easily.

How might they be won back again? Not, it seems, with threats about the dangers of a hung parliament. Not only do 90 per cent of Liberal Democrats think a hung parliament would be a good idea, but more than half of Conservative supporters would like Nick Clegg to have a role in the next government.

The Conservatives have already attacked the Liberal Democrats for opposing a like-for-like replacement for Trident. However, BPIX found that 46 per cent of voters are in favour of scrapping Trident and only 34 per cent are opposed.

Potentially more effective, perhaps, could be criticism of the Liberal Democrats for their proposed amnesty for long-term illegal residents. Liberal Democrat supporters may be relatively liberal on immigration but, even so, according to YouGov no less than 65 per cent of the public feel that too many immigrants are coming into Britain.

Labour has its own dilemma. Does it embrace the Liberal Democrats as potential allies in the battle to deny the Tories power? Or does it attack a political force that now threatens to capture some 30 or so Labour seats? The trouble with uncharted waters is that there is no reliable guide.

What You Need To Know About Trident

IN THE TV LEADERS’ DEBATE, last night on ITV, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, suggested that the cost of replacing Britain’s nuclear deterrent would run into ‘100 billion pounds.’

Not true.

The government has put the bill at £15bn to £20bn; but campaign group Greenpeace claims it will run to at least £34bn once extra costs like VAT are factored in.

Nick Clegg’s figure seems to be some kind of ‘totalling’ of Trident’s replacement costs and other expenditure expected to be incurred, directly and indirectly, throughout the system’s lifetime.

Scrapping Trident would not produce an immediate saving of £100 billion that could be used to pay-off the nation’s debt – particularly since scrapping the deal, at this late stage, would involve considerable cancellation costs.

Moreover, the system’s cancellation would inevitably require some other form of military defence to replace it.

Whatever your view on nuclear weapons, doing away with this country’s only deterrent is no panacea for the huge black hole in its public finances – and such a decision would, in any case, cost some 15,000 British jobs.

Nick Clegg Launches Lib Dem Manifesto

(Guardian) – THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS today projected themselves as the only party that is telling the truth about the economy and promised to “hard-wire” fairness into British society.

At the last of three main party manifesto launches, the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, accused Labour and the Conservatives of having “airbrushed the economy” from their election platforms.

Clegg said his party would claw back 10% of the £40bn lost to the exchequer through tax evasion every year, promising to deliver “the most radical, far-reaching tax reforms in a generation”.

Vince Cable, the party’s treasury spokesman, said the economy was the “elephant in the room” of the election campaign.

Within hours of the launch, at the headquarters of the Bloomberg financial information service in the City of London, Labour said the Lib Dems had underestimated their plan to raise personal tax allowances to £10,000 by £5bn.

The Tories said there was a £10bn “black hole” in the plans.

“All governments want to ensure that people and businesses are paying tax that it’s appropriate for them to be paying, but the Liberal Democrats are making significant claims about this which simply don’t stack up,” the shadow work and pensions secretary, Theresa May, told the BBC.

But the Lib Dems insisted they were fully costed, and said they were the only party being honest about the levels of forthcoming spending restraints.

Cable acknowledged he would have to find further savings to complete the process of getting the deficit under control.

“When you put that together, you’ve got total cuts of £10bn a year,” he said. “You might say: ‘Well that’s fine, but you’ve not solved the problem.'”

Cable said that, unlike Labour and the Conservatives, the Lib Dems admitted there would have to be deep cuts after the election.

Although the Lib Dems did not explicitly rule out income tax or VAT rises, Cable said the party’s plans did not require an increase in tax.

“We’re not advocating an increase in taxation,” he said. “British families and businesses are taxed enough already … but it is important that we have a sense of fairness and the solidarity behind that.”

In his speech, Clegg set out to portray the Lib Dems as the party of fairness, with a pledge that nobody would pay income tax on the first £10,000 of earnings.

The party leader said this would be worth £700 a year to millions of people on low and middle incomes, and would free 3.6 million people earning less than £10,000 from paying income tax at all.

Party sources rejected Labour’s suggestion that the policy was poorly costed, saying the Institute for Fiscal Studies would endorse the figures. “The Labour party are making three assumptions that are not true. They think we are also increasing the 40p rate as well as the £10,000 tax threshold, which we are not.

“They are also saying that we are increasing above £10,000 the higher rate of tax-free personal allowance that the over-65s currently get, but we are not. And they don’t acknowledge the fact that we are phasing out the tax free allowance for those on over £100,000.”

The party said its plans would be paid for by the proposals on tax avoidance, as well as a number of other cost-cutting measures. There will be a £400 pay rise cap for public sector workers, government payments into child trust funds would end, child tax credits worth £1.3bn for high earners would be cut, and the availability of winter fuel payments to younger pensioners would be reduced.

The Lib Dems would scrap ID cards and the national intercept database, cut the Eurofighter military jet contract, scale back the HomeBuy shared ownership scheme, reform regional development agencies and scrap seven quangos.

“The other parties have airbrushed the economy out of this election,” Clegg said.

“They are treating people like fools, imagining that manifestos barely fit for times of plenty are enough now. We will give hope married with credibility.

“The two other parties have taught us to expect so little. Our manifesto says, emphatically, no to that kind of politics.

“If you have ever looked at the Lib Dems and thought: ‘Have they got the right ideas?’, this manifesto is your answer. We can and we will.”

Lib Dems Field Castle Point Candidate

Brendan D'Cruz

THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS have finally fielded a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) for the Castle Point seat.

Brendan D’Cruz, grew up in Essex and has strong links to the area where his family still lives. In recent years he worked for the University of East London both at Docklands and in Barking before becoming Head of Department: Business & Computing at the University of Wales, Newport in 2008.

Brendan gained a degree in Computing & Informatics and a Ph.D. from the University of Plymouth. His career has seen him working in academic management, international collaboration and in business development. He has also held management positions at the University of Northampton and the University of East London before taking up his current position. He is a Chartered Member of the British Computer Society and a Chartered Engineer, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is actively involved in the development of the project management profession working with the Association for Project Management as an advisor.

Before becoming PPC for Castle Point, Brendan campaigned in both Northampton and in St. Alban’s contributing to Lib Dem calls for fairer taxes, a fair start for all, and a greener more sustainable economy. Brendan believes strongly in professional values and personal integrity, and was appalled by the parliamentary expenses scandal. He believes that politics can make a difference, and that politicians should act on what they believe instead of just saying what they think people want to hear.

Brendan’s research into sustainable development includes the need for strategies and initiatives to address fuel poverty and climate change. His interests outside of politics include football, travel, the arts, and supporting sporting mega-events such as the Olympics, World Cup and Ryder Cup.

Clegg Quells Dissent Over Choice Of Ally

(Independent) – NICK CLEGG was forced to quell dissent from within his own ranks and fight off attempts by Labour and the Tories to woo his party yesterday, as he pleaded with voters to take a “once-in-a-generation opportunity for real change” at the next election.

Senior figures from the Government and the Tory frontbench had already made pitches for the Liberal Democrat leader’s support in the event of a hung parliament by the time Mr Clegg gave his closing speech to his party’s spring conference.

But in a defiant message to his political rivals, he said both major parties were “closer to confusion” than to his values. Mr Clegg, who delivered his address despite suffering from a sore throat, reserved his strongest attack for the Tories. He argued that David Cameron’s team was behaving like a “protection racket” in warning voters that Britain’s credit worthiness would plummet in the markets if they did not deliver a clear Conservative victory.

“David Cameron, George Osborne and Ken Clarke marched into the City of London the other day and declared that if voters didn’t give them the result they want, the markets would tear the house down,” he said.

“Cynical, desperate, the Tories think they’re entitled to victory – the moment they feel it slipping from their grasp, they start lashing out. It’s a political version of the protection racket – do what we want, or else.”

Mr Clegg also took aim at the Tories over their support for Lord Ashcroft, the party’s billionaire deputy chairman and donor who recently revealed he had not been paying tax on his overseas assets. The Tories had become “the world’s first offshore political party” as a result of the £5m donated by Lord Ashcroft, he said. “How can David Cameron claim to clean up politics when he can’t even clean up his own party deputy chairman. The label says made in Britain, but the money says made in Belize.”

Mr Clegg called Labour the “party of many disasters” and used his speech to quash suggestions that he would cut a secret deal to deliver Mr Cameron or Gordon Brown to No 10. “Some days I read that we’re planning a deal with Labour, some days that we’re planning a deal with the Conservatives, other days that we’ll refuse to talk to anyone at all,” he said. “Yet, when all the speculation is said and done, I keep coming back to some simple truths. I am not the kingmaker, the 45 million voters of Britain are the kingmakers.”

Delegates at the Birmingham conference had voiced concerns at the prospect of a coalition with Mr Cameron, a fear prompted by Mr Clegg’s admission that the party winning greatest support from voters should be allowed to form a Government. He was also criticised by delegates for praising Baroness Thatcher in recent interviews. Aides to Mr Clegg said that party members would be consulted if the prospect of a formal coalition arose. “Any leader worth his salt would take his party with him,” his spokeswoman said.

Polls continue to predict a hung parliament, with two suggesting over the weekend that Mr Cameron would not have a clear Commons majority after the next election. Support for the Liberal Democrats has so far defied expectations that it would be squeezed by the closeness of the race between Labour and the Tories. A poll for ICM put the Liberal Democrat support at 21 per cent, with YouGov putting them on 17 per cent.

Though Mr Clegg did not repeat his aim of becoming Prime Minister, an ambition which featured heavily in his autumn party conference speech, he set out the equally demanding target of claiming a third of the votes cast. “Almost one in four chose the Liberal Democrats at the last election. If that increased to one in three, we could lead the next Government,” he said.

Tory City-Based TV Franchise Plans Condemned By Lib Dems

(Press Gazette) – LIBERAL DEMOCRAT culture, media and sport spokesman Don Foster has criticised the conservative plan to scrap the Independently Funded News Consortia pilot scheme saying the Tories media policy could not be trusted.

Conservative shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt used his speech to the Oxford Media Convention yesterday to signal the Tories’ intention to torpedo plans for a system of IFNC to replace ITV news in the British regions with money possibly provided from part of the license fee.

Last night, Foster condemned the Tories vision to instead introduce a series of city-based TV franchises without any public support.

He said: “The Tories’ blind faith in the markets misses the point on media. It isn’t good enough to simply deregulate and hope the market will make everything better.

“If independent local and regional news providers are to survive they will require active support from Government.”

The Conservatives favour the deregulation of cross-media ownership rules at a local level as a way to foster development of local TV news services.

Hunt has also suggested yesterday the Tories would create space for a new national network to provide prime time viewing for local TV affiliates as a way of further reducing costs.

He said: “Let me be clear. We do not support these [IFNC] provisions in the Digital Economy Bill. And we do not support the pilot schemes.

“The contracts are not due to be signed until May. Anyone looking to sign one should understand that we’ll do all we can to legally unpick them if David Cameron enters Number 10. And if they haven’t been signed, we won’t be doing so.

“This is because we want to see the emergence of a radically different, improved and forward-looking local media sector.

“Not just local TV, where we are about the only major developed country not to have proper city-based TV franchises. But profitable, hungry and ambitious local radio, local newspapers and local websites as well.”

Lib Dems Swap Poll Pledges For Austerity

(Reuters) – LIBERAL DEMOCRAT leader Nick Clegg, potentially a pivotal figure in a hung parliament, said on Monday he would keep spending pledges to a minimum in the election because the indebted country could not afford it.

Clegg refused to be drawn on whether he would support a minority administration in the event of an inconclusive election result, saying he would not sacrifice his core policies for the sake of power.

He told a Reuters Newsmaker event in London that voters had no time for “implausible promises” when Britain faced the greatest financial crisis in generations.

Opinion polls suggest the Conservatives will beat Labour in an election due by June, but may fall short of an outright majority, leaving Clegg’s party holding the balance of power.

Both the larger parties have been wooing the Lib Dems in recent weeks, emphasising areas where policies overlap.

Britain’s budget deficit is running at a record 178 billion pounds in the wake of the global financial crisis.

“Shopping lists of pledges don’t wash any more,” Clegg said, ditching earlier Lib Dem commitments on childcare and pensions.

“The politics of plenty are over. Voters will have no time for implausible promises and no interest in attempts to buy their favour with cheap trinkets.

Instead the Lib Dems would campaign on just four priorities — fairer taxation, a boost for primary school education, a programme of infrastructure investment and political reform.

“The heart of our manifesto will be short, direct and to the point. We have stripped away everything that is not essential because the country cannot afford it.”

Clegg also said Britain’s largest banks should be broken up to ensure that the riskier activities are separated from the more conventional retail operations.

Markets are concerned the election could produce a “hung parliament” with no absolute majority for either main party, or a government too weak to take the tough measures needed to cut a deficit totalling a record 12.6 percent of GDP.

Conservative leader David Cameron says his party would cut the deficit faster and further than Labour, but has yet to detail spending cuts.

The government plans to halve the deficit over four years but is reluctant to cut spending until recovery is assured.