Coalition starts to decouple as parties eye 2015

Clegg and Cameron keen to air differences as both aim for centre ground at next election

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have already begun to decouple their parties from coalition in readiness to fight the next election, senior Tory and Lib Dem sources revealed last night. The Prime Minister and his new strategist, Lynton Crosby, are to start formal Conservative election campaign meetings next month, while Mr Clegg will begin to put distance between his party and the Tories in a major speech tomorrow with the clear declaration: "Our offer is different from that of the Conservatives."

Mr Clegg will declare that the Lib Dems have "learnt to live with a host of invidious choices" as coalition partners. "If you want to protect welfare as well, you've got to accept that you'll end up gutting the crime budget, or the BIS budget, or local government. We get that now."

Despite there being at least two years before the official start of the 2015 campaign, both leaders recognise the need for differentiation from each other to sweep up fresh voters in the political centre ground.

Mr Crosby, whose return to British politics was confirmed last month, is expected to co-chair the election meetings with Mr Cameron. George Osborne, who had been carrying out a dual role as both Chancellor and election strategist, will remain at the meetings but is stepping back from the campaigning job to focus on the economy.

The manoeuvres come as the coalition prepares to publish its "mid-term review" on policy achievements and outstanding targets in the New Year. The Deputy Prime Minister is under greater pressure to set out a distinct Liberal Democrat stall in coalition after a ComRes poll for The Independent on Sunday today reveals Ukip have leapt to 14 per cent, five points ahead of Mr Clegg's party on 9 per cent and in third place overall. Labour have fallen four points to 39 per cent but have retained a double-figure lead over the Tories, who are 11 points behind on 28 per cent, compared to 12 points behind in the same poll last month.

In a speech entitled "Governing Britain from the centre ground: building a stronger economy in a fairer society", on the eve of his fifth anniversary as Lib Dem leader, Mr Clegg will set out the core message his party will use from now until the next election.

The Deputy Prime Minister will attack the "Tory right's dreams of a fantasy world", including the belief that "we can walk away from the EU, but magically keep our economy strong, where we can pretend the world hasn't moved on, and stand opposed to equal marriage, where we can refuse to accept the verdict of the British people and pretend the Conservatives won a majority".

He will add: "It is at times like these that Britain needs a party rooted in the centre ground, which anchors the country there. The Liberal Democrats are that party."

He will stake a claim for the tax cut for low- and middle-income earners, which was accelerated by the Chancellor in his autumn statement earlier this month.

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