Clegg launches centre ground election battle

NICK Clegg yesterday suggested the Liberal Democrats will fight the 2015 general election as the party of the centre ground, in an apparent admission that his party cannot win back the left-wing protest voters who supported him in 2010.

The decision could have major implications on the make-up of the next government as a collapse of the Lib Dem vote would be devastating for the Conservatives and hand many key constituencies to Labour.

In a speech to mark five years as party leader Clegg said the Lib Dems have shifted from the “dogmatic liberalism” of opposition to “pragmatic liberalism” in government.

With some opinion polls suggesting the Lib Dems have slipped into fourth place behind UKIP, Clegg acknowledged that his party is a suffering as a result of the UK’s “tribal” politics.

As a result he said Lib Dems must do more to publicise divisions in the coalition, so the electorate knows when they have forced a concession.

“If we are to become a more permanent fixture of government, then it will be, at least at first, as a partner in coalitions,” he said. “[That] means putting up with people who object that we haven’t got everything they wanted.”

Clegg cited the example of the government’s controversial welfare reforms as an example of the Lib Dems influencing policy. He said intervention by the junior coalition partner meant the country avoided the “draconian” cuts he claims would have accompanied a majority Tory administration.

All the major parties have begun positioning themselves for the next election and last week the Conservatives launched a campaign to promote their welfare policy in key marginal constituencies.