David Cameron has accused the Liberal Democrats of being “all over the place” in struggling to find an economic policy, as the Coalition’s internal war of words following last week’s Autumn Statement escalated.
The Prime Minister’s attack followed comments by the Chancellor, George Osborne, who bracketed the Liberal Democrats with Labour in claiming both would lead the country to a “return to economic chaos” if they entered government in 2015.
In a party email sent out at midnight, Mr Cameron claimed: “The Liberal Democrats are all over the place, unable to decide whether they want to stick to the plan or veer off it. And they – like Ukip – would be prepared to prop up a failing Labour government. In contrast, the Conservatives offer a long-term economic plan that is working.”
With a general election only five months away, the Conservatives are clinging to the hope that they can win an outright majority which would allow them to govern without doing a deal with the Lib Dems.
Writing in yesterday’s Sunday Times, Mr Osborne taunted the Lib Dems for their alleged indecision. “It’s hard to work out exactly what they think. While they sign up to deficit reduction, they want more tax rises rather than spending cuts,” he wrote.
The Lib Dems are hoping to salvage some of their lost support by putting distance between themselves and the Tories. Last week, Nick Clegg was conspicuously absent while George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement in the Commons.
Lib Dems: policy focus
Lib Dems: policy focus
1/6 GEOFF PAYNE English Party representative, Federal Policy Committee
“The Tories have been seen over the last week for the nasty party that they are. I would go on the offensive to justify our record and ruthlessly exploit those differences over things like the benefit cap and scrapping the Human Rights Act.”
2/6 GARETH EPPS Co-chair, Social Liberal Forum
“We need to make it clear that we’re not in it for our mates, like the Tories. Some of the successes, like shared parental leave, would never have been there with only the Tories.”
3/6 DAISY COOPER Candidate, party president
“A lot of people do know that raising the tax threshold is a Liberal Democrat policy. We just need to keep telling the public that.”
4/6 JOHN PUGH Southport MP, rebelled against leadership on tuition fees
“We need to say that issues of social inequality and justice are equal priorities to economics. We must return to a traditional funding of the NHS.”
5/6 LORELY BURT Solihull MP, former deputy leadership candidate
“It does seem that we’ve been the repository of all the best ideas and that nice Mr Cameron has pinched our income tax policy and Labour the mansion tax policy.”
6/6 BARONESS PARMINTER Former chief executive, Campaign for the Protection of Rural England
“We have got to be very clear where we have stopped the Tories implementing changes that would have been detrimental to the environment.”
The Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday that he preferred to be campaigning in Cornwall, among “normal people”.
The Tories are calculating their most persuasive message to voters is saying they have a clear plan for sorting out the economy, while their rivals are floundering.
But Mr Clegg yesterday accused the Tories of not being “straightforward” with the public and of “kidding themselves” if they believe they can achieve Mr Osborne’s proposed budget cuts without hurting vulnerable people.
Mr Clegg said that while the Conservatives and Lib Dems agreed on getting rid of the worst of the government deficit, agreement on spending ends after that is due to be achieved in 2017-18. After that, the Lib Dems would increase spending on public services in line with economic growth, but the Tories – Mr Clegg alleged – were making an “impossible” promise of spending cuts that would not damage public services.
“It is impossible to, as the Conservatives are now saying, balance the books, remorselessly shrink the state, deliver unfunded tax cuts and protect the public services which people treasure – supporting the police, supporting the NHS, supporting schools, colleges and so on,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme.