'Keep calm' in battle with right-wing Tories, Lib Dems told

  • @MattChorley

Liberal Democrats have been told to "keep calm" in the coming battle with right-wing Tories over the future direction of the coalition.

Nick Clegg will also urge David Cameron to ignore the "siren voices" on the right of the Conservative Party and insist the coalition remain in the centre ground of politics.

The Lib Dem leader is under pressure to exert his influence on the Government after suffering major losses in the local polls. The party's London mayoral candidate, Brian Paddick, was forced into fourth place behind the Greens' Jenny Jones.

As yet there has been no major challenge to his leadership – bar that of former MP Lembit Opik – but Mr Clegg is on notice that he has 12 months to reverse his party's fortunes.

The Deputy Prime Minister is expected to launch a media offensive, beginning with The Andrew Marr Show today, to make the case for the Lib Dems being in power. There will be no let-up in the "differentiation" policy, to be more distinct from the Tories, even though it failed to prevent a repeat of last year's election bloodbath. The Lib Dems suffered heavy losses in Thursday's local polls, losing 336 seats – far worse than the 250 predicted.

Friends of Mr Clegg say he has made clear to Mr Cameron that he is determined to keep the Government "anchored in the centre ground" and will publicly go into battle with the "siren voices" on the right of the Tory party. "There are always people saying the Government has got to be more right wing. The task for the Lib Dems is to make sure we remain rock solid in the face of that."

Lib Dem MPs have been told to "keep calm", notably in the battle to secure House of Lords reform, a key manifesto commitment and now a lightning rod for disquiet among Tory MPs. A source said: "All we are saying is we should elect the people who govern us."

Mr Clegg was criticised yesterday by Tavish Scott, a former Scottish Lib Dem leader, who said he missed a "tremendous" opportunity to attack Mr Cameron over his links to the media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Writing in The Scotsman, he said: "Murdoch should have been a gift to the UK Lib Dems."

The SNP increased its tally of councillors by 57, compared with results from 2007, and remains the largest party spread across Scotland's 32 councils.

In 2013, most of the local polls are in the shire authorities, where Lib Dems and Tories do battle in county and district councils. Lib Dems have taken heart from the fact that the party made gains against the Tories in the south, including in Brentwood, the constituency of Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary. The party held on to power in Cheltenham, Eastleigh, Three Rivers, in Hertfordshire, and South Lakeland, but lost Cambridge, previously a stronghold.