Lib Dems to stress coalition policy victories

Party seeks to distance itself from Tories after tuition fees row as poll ratings remain low

Matt Chorley,Political Correspondent
Sunday 21 November 2010 01:00

The Liberal Democrats are to adopt a new strategy of laying claim to aspects of coalition policy in an attempt to reverse the impact of government spending cuts on their poll ratings.

In a significant U-turn from the pledge to "own" the entire government programme, Lib Dem strategists at the party's Cowley Street HQ will spell out where key reforms would not have happened if the Tories had been in power alone. This includes taking the credit for significant areas of policy covering welfare, energy, housing, and constitutional reform.

A senior aide to the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said the handling of the rise in tuition fees to £9,000 - where a "more progressive" package had been drowned out by protests - had been a "communications disaster which cannot happen again".

"We've got to make clear our successes now. We cannot just wait until 2015 and hope people give us some credit," the aide added.

Two months after Mr Clegg refused to pick a "synthetic fight" with the Tories, the Lib Dem president Tim Farron told The IoS that "Britain is better, and this government is better, for our being in it". A new ComRes/IoS opinion poll puts the Lib Dems on 13 per cent - the lowest level in a ComRes survey since before the election. One in three people who voted for the Lib Dems in May say they would now back Labour.

Party managers are confident that careful management of announcements, pointing to Lib Dem "wins" without criticising the Tories, will ensure a strong record on which to campaign at the next election.

It includes claims that major welfare reforms "would not have been possible" without Lib Dems in power, while Andrew Stunell, the Lib Dem communities minister, suggested 150,000 new affordable homes were only planned "because of Liberal Democrat influence in government".

The fightback comes amid rising anger at the handling of the tuition fees row. Senior figures, including Mr Clegg and Danny Alexander, wanted to drop the policy of scrapping tuition fees but the party's campaign department ordered every candidate to sign the NUS pledge to "vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament".

One disgruntled MP said: "While Nick and Danny were preparing for coalition talks, other parts of the party were still behaving as if we would permanently inhabit opposition."

The Lib Dem party chairman, Lorely Burt, told activists in Solihull yesterday that she would not vote in favour of the rise. In an interview on BBC1's Politics Show today, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, insists all pre-election pledges, including on fees, were usurped by the coalition agreement which is "binding upon us". David Laws, of the Lib Dem coalition negotiating team, tells The Westminster Hour on Radio 4 tonight: "There was no way either of the other two parties would've signed up to the abolition of tuition fees."

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