Clegg Says Liberal Democrats Can Win as Poll Disagrees

The U.K.’s Liberal Democrats will win more seats in the next election in 2015, the party’s leader Nick Clegg will tell activists today, even as polls show it’s losing ground with voters.

Clegg will use the party’s victory in a special election in Eastleigh last week, where Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives came in third, to say the Liberal Democrats are now a natural party of government. Backing them is no longer just a way to show displeasure with the main political parties and hard work could mean greater gains, he will say today.

“Liberal Democrats, I have spent nearly three years asking you to hold firm,” he will say at the party’s spring rally in Brighton, southern England, according to extracts of his speech released in advance by his office. “But today, Liberal Democrats, I have a different message for you: win.”

A poll published yesterday of battleground districts, those likely to change hands in an election, put Clegg on course to have 17 seats in the House of Commons, compared with 57 seats now, with Labour on 367 and the Conservatives 231.

The data gave Ed Miliband’s Labour Party an outright majority of 84 seats, meaning Clegg would no longer hold the balance of power. The survey by Michael Ashcroft, a upper-house Conservative lawmaker who commissions polls, interviewed 19,119 voters online in 213 marginal parliamentary districts between Jan. 29 and Feb. 18.

Under Pressure

Clegg is under pressure from rank and file activists unhappy about the concessions the Liberal Democrats must give in return for being in power with the Tories and concerned about the party’s poll ratings.

“We didn’t win in Eastleigh in spite of being in power,” Clegg will say. “We won in Eastleigh because we’re in power -- locally and nationally.”

While Clegg’s attack on Cameron’s party today will be measured, his Business Secretary Vince Cable has had no such reticence in attacking his coalition partners.

In remarks to a meeting of activists at the conference on March 8, Cable said some Tory lawmakers are waging “jihad” on state spending, saying it would be “utterly counterproductive” to cut science and skills budgets any further, which form part of his department’s spending.

Resisting Cuts

Cable is resisting cuts to his business department, arguing last week that the U.K. needs to examine whether the economic argument in the U.K. may have shifted in favor of debt-funded capital investment, with slow growth now a greater concern than a loss of market confidence.

Conservative members of the Cabinet, Home Secretary Theresa May and Defense Secretary Philip Hammond are also expressing concern over attempts to find 10 billion pounds ($15 billion) of further savings across government.

The Guardian newspaper reported yesterday that Cable had said political disagreements over future spending plans are so intense that the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s planned spending review for early summer covering the fiscal years 2015-16 may not take place at all. That claim was denied separately by both Cable and Clegg’s spokespeople.

No Confusion

Taking a different tack today, Clegg will say that rather than confusing voters, the coalition with the Tories allows the Liberal Democrats to differentiate themselves.

“There is a myth that governing together in coalition diminishes the ability of the smaller party to beat the bigger party,” Clegg will say. “The opposite is true; the longer you stand side-by-side with your opponents the easier your differences are to see. We don’t lose our identity by governing with the Conservatives. The comparison helps the British people understand who we are.”

In a question-and-answer session with activists yesterday, Clegg said 2015 would be dubbed “the scarcity election” with voters unlikely to believe any party that promises “goodies.”

The Liberal Democrat leader did not call for new growth measures, saying the U.K. is “carrying the weight of so many mistakes in the past.”

“I am as restless as anyone else to see growth materialize as fast as it should, but I don’t think we should kid ourselves this will be easy,” Clegg said.

-- With assistance from Robert Hutton in London. Editor: Jeffrey Donovan

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