Clegg fights to claim limelight with environmental revolution

Lib Dem leader uses first anniversary to push green energy commitment
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Indy Politics

Nick Clegg will try to assert his authority on his first anniversary as Liberal Democrat leader this week by outlining proposals for a green jobs revolution.

He will lay out plans to divert the Government's planned economic stimulus to environmentally friendly projects as he tries to break the dominance of Labour and the Conservatives. He will argue that Britain must invest in environmentally friendly projects to ensure the country pulls out of the looming recession on the road towards a low-carbon economy.

With the party's opinion poll rating remaining stubbornly static for the past 12 months, 41-year-old Mr Clegg will make a fresh attempt to break through the two-party squeeze which as eclipsed the party since David Cameron became Conservative leader three years ago. The party's average rating improved slightly in The Independent's poll of polls by May, rising to 19 per cent, but fell back in November to 15 per cent, a victim of the bounce enjoyed by Gordon Brown.

As Mr Clegg enters his second year as leader, he is hoping to cement his party's new commitment to tax-cutting: they propose a four-point cut in the basic rate of income tax. He is also aiming to capitalise on his commitment to green energy at a time when the economic slowdown has led others to downplay the environment.

He faced criticism at the weekend when one of the biggest Liberal Democrat donors, the veteran peer Lord Jacobs, resigned from the party to press for tax reform. The party also faces uncertainty over donations worth £2.4m made by Michael Brown, who was convictedof stealing millions from a former football executive.

Mr Clegg has also suffered the departures – both amicable – of his loyal policy chief, Jon Oates, and his press spokeswoman, Hannah Gardiner. He has promoted aide Lena Pietsch as his spokeswoman, and a new policy and communications supreme is expected to be confirmed within days to complete the team expected to take Mr Clegg into the next election. Senior party figures dismissed the departure of Lord Jacobs, who gave the party £261,000 since 2001, and insisted they would not have to repay the huge donations from Brown.

They openly admit they have been squeezed by the ferocious battle for supremacy between Mr Brown and David Cameron's resurgent Tory party. But they say Mr Clegg, who won the leadership by a few hundred votes after battling Home Affairs spokesman Chris Huhne, is in it for the long haul, insisting his target to double the party's seats within two elections is plausible. Morale in the party has been buoyed by the success of Treasury spokesman Vince Cable, who has won plaudits for predicting problems in the economy before most Westminster commentators.

Another senior member of Mr Clegg's shadow cabinet said: "I think we are remarkably strong given all the winds outside. Our poll ratings have held up remarkably well. It's less than during the Iraq war. You might say surely we should be doing better, but maintaining this level is pretty good, given the circumstances."

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