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.

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
i100
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

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

English Teacher- Manchester

£19200 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes