Lib Dems to target Tory votes as Clegg sees his constituency slip away

Bold new strategy as banks deal becomes latest image problem

The Liberal Democrats will try to win the votes of "soft" Conservative supporters at the next general election after conceding they are unlikely to regain the backing of people who have already switched to Labour.

Confidential papers seen by The Independent suggest that Nick Clegg will reject calls by some Liberal Democrats for him to "tack left" to try to convince progressive voters that he is not "right-wing" after entering the Coalition with the Tories.

Instead, Mr Clegg will pitch to people who voted Tory in last year's general election, but believe the party is more right-wing than David Cameron. He will also target people who like the Liberal Democrats but did not bother to vote last May, trying to convince them his party would no longer be a "wasted vote" because it has become a credible party of government.

Yesterday Mr Clegg had more immediate problems to handle amid tension in his party over the Government's decision not to tax bankers' bonuses in return for a promise that lending to small firms would be boosted.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, who quit as a Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman after condemning the agreement, blamed Mr Cameron for what he called a "weak, waffly" deal.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, rejected Tory calls to stop "banker bashing" and talked up the prospect of splitting the big banks' investment and high street arms. "We have got to keep the pressure up on the banks, particularly on lending," he said.

Mr Clegg's long-term strategy to detach "soft" Conservatives from Mr Cameron's party was discussed at a private meeting a week ago of Liberal Democrat Cabinet ministers and their advisers. It could cause some tensions between Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron.

Although the two leaders want the Coalition to maintain a united front until the election due in 2015, the Liberal Democrat plan is a clear signal that the party will then go its own way. Some Tories have called for an electoral pact between the Coalition partners or an informal agreement to encourage anti-Labour tactical voting, but the idea has not been endorsed by any Liberal Democrats.

Private polling among 2,000 people presented to last week's session will shape Mr Clegg's strategy to prevent a reduction in his ranks of 57 MPs in 2015. The number of people who say they would not vote Liberal Democrat under any circumstances has risen from 16 to 23 per cent since May. Party officials suspect most have switched to Labour or the Greens and are unlikely to be wooed back. These defections have caused the Liberal Democrats' slump in the opinion surveys but their private polling paints a more optimistic picture of the party's prospects in 2015.

Although the proportion of people who would "strongly consider" backing Mr Clegg's party dropped from 46 per cent last May to 37 per cent in December, officials were heartened that four in 10 voters were still "very much open to us" in the immediate aftermath of the party's damaging U-turn over university tuition fees.

Of the 37 per cent, 2 per cent say they always vote Liberal Democrat; 13 per cent say they would most likely vote for the party but may consider backing others and 19 per cent would consider supporting them equally among other parties.

Only 28 per cent of the Liberal Democrats' "strong considerers" voted for the party last May, while 26 per cent backed the Tories and 31 per cent did not vote. These two groups are now the third party's key targets.

The polling suggests that Mr Clegg's "trust" rating had plummeted. But while most people believe that he has compromised his values, only about one in 10 people think he has "sold out". People who have abandoned the Liberal Democrats now regard Mr Clegg and his party as too far to the right. Among the population as a whole, Mr Clegg and his party are seen as on the centre ground, with the Liberal Democrat leader a little to the right of his party. Ed Miliband is seen as to the left of Labour, while the Tories are seen as more right-wing than Mr Cameron.

This finding has reinforced Mr Clegg's determination to remain firmly in the centre ground. One ally who was present at the meeting said yesterday: "We must not tack left. We must be in the liberal centre. Some Lib Dems say we should pull left to show we are not Tories but won't help us win votes from the Tories."

* The European Union's financial services chief yesterday warned of a fresh crackdown on bonuses. Michel Barnier urged bank bosses to be careful when deciding to lavish big pay-outs on their "stars", or else the EU might beef up what bankers claim are already some of the toughest rules in the world.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Manager (Junior)

Negotiable: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Account Manager (Junior) Account ...

Solar Business Development Manager – M&A

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Accountant,Reconciliations,Bristol,Bank,£260/day

£200 - £260 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Accountant, Reconciliations, Bristo...

Test Analyst

£20000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Tes...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried