Lib Dems and Clegg must raise their game

WITH the government teetering from one disaster to another, the danger for the Liberal Democrats is of being squeezed as the Conservatives offer themselves as the only real alternative to Gordon Brown and Labour.

Graham Dines

WITH the government teetering from one disaster to another, the danger for the Liberal Democrats is of being squeezed as the Conservatives offer themselves as the only real alternative to Gordon Brown and Labour.

But as the Liberal Democrats gather in Bournemouth for their annual conference, they have launched a plea to voters in many parts of Britain not to waste their votes on the Tories.

Instead of falling into the Tories' slipstream, the Lib Dems' campaigns chief Ed Davey says the party is going all-out to help sink Labour in areas of Britain where the Conservatives are an endangered species.

Signalling his intentions to concentrate more of their fire towards Labour ahead of the next election, Mr Davey argues that voting Liberal Democrat in many of England's major cities will be the only way to get rid of the Labour Government.

“The Tories don't have a single councillor in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle or Oxford. It is almost inconceivable that Labour will be got rid of as a government unless Labour MPs in those five cities are defeated.”

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Mr Davey appears to be envisaging a post-election scenario in which David Cameron's Conservatives sweep all before them in southern England - and that surely means that a host of Lib Dem MPs below the Severn-Trent line will be defeated by the Tories - while the Lib Dems make hay in Labour's heartlands in northern England, Wales and Scotland.

And if they were to happen, Mr Cameron might not be able to form a majority government and would have to go cap in hand to the Lib Dems for their support in forming a Government.

Mr Davey's logic would have been convincing in the early Cameron era when the Tories were 7% ahead in the opinion polls, not enough to enable them to win an outright election victory.

But a Tory lead of around 20%, which is what we have now, would translate into major gains for the Conservatives even “up north” and the Lib Dems will have to raise their game - and also the profile of their rather anonymous leader Nick Clegg - if they are not to be squeezed.

Meanwhile, Mr Davy has joined the long list of British politicians who have been seduced by the rhetoric and the life story of Barack Obama, the Democrat Party's candidate for the US presidency.

“It was very interesting to hear the message from the US Democrats - it was all about change and in a sort of Bob the Builder way, their strapline when you say change is 'Yes we can'.

“There is a parallel to our Make it Happen document. There is a frustration I think on both sides of the Atlantic in wanting to see change . . . the Liberal Democrats will argue at our conference that we can.”

Make it Happen, which will be debated on the floor of the conference, calls for the tax cuts and tax increases for those on the biggest incomes, with loopholes closed on capital gains and pensions taxes.

“Individuals and families are having real problems making ends meet. We are going to show at this conference that we understand that and we have the policies to help individuals and families make ends meet,” says Mr Davey.

On a pre-conference visit to an offshore energy farm in the North Sea, Mr Clegg warned that Britain's energy security is under severe threat as a result of the Government's “disintegrating” energy policy, which “will lead to an ever-increasing dependence on vulnerable foreign energy supplies.”

Setting out Liberal Democrat proposals to secure energy independence for Britain, he said politicians of all parties need to demonstrate the kind of vision, application and political will behind the Apollo Project that succeeded in putting man on the moon, in order to head off the threat to the security of our energy supply.

“The Government has been looking at energy from the wrong end of the telescope,” said Mr Clegg. “The scale of its failure to plan for Britain's energy security has been brought into sharp relief by the Georgian crisis, which underlines the risks of increasing dependence on foreign energy sources as North Sea oil supplies run down.

“Rather than use its period in office to reduce Britain's dependency on vulnerable supplies from unstable regions, Labour has dithered and flip-flopped for over a decade. Instead of an energy policy, we have a potential economic, environmental and national security disaster waiting to happen.”

The Liberal Democrat conference opens in Bournemouth tomorrow.


FAREWELL Strasbourg? That's the outcome most British Euro MPs hope for following the collapse of the roof in the European Parliament's second home.

Each month, MEPs and their staff, European Commission bureaucrats, and journalists decamp from Brussels to spend a week debating policy in Strasbourg which could easily be discussed back in the Belgian capital.

It's the symbol which Eurosceptics insist epitomises the waste which is endemic throughout the EU. But even enthusiasts for the great federalist adventure think the time has come to end the folly of Strasbourg.

The decision to give the European Parliament twin homes was taken at the Maastrict summit. Even though John Major could have vetoed it, he was so weakened that he traded his veto for negotiating opt-outs from the working time directive and the single currency

For East of England Tory MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, who has long campaigned to end the “Strasbourg circus,” the collapse of the roof was a fateful intervention. He commented:

“Because of the farce of having two seats for the Parliament, millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is poured down the drain every month,” says Mr Van Orden. “The monthly move is estimated to cost over £160 million per year, and causes over 20,000 tonnes of CO² to be unnecessarily emitted.

“Now that fate has intervened and the safety of the Strasbourg building is in doubt, there is a golden opportunity for Governments to bring this costly and unnecessary venture to an end. I have written to the British Prime Minister to press for this at the next EU Summit.”


THE Scottish National Party's desperation to show how much better life can be north of the border rather than in the Thatcherite vestiges of England is now being aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

Legislation will soon be put before the Scottish parliament abolishing council tax and replacing it with a local income tax of 3p over and above the standard rate of taxation set at Westminster by the UK government.

At a stroke, this will remove pensioners from having to pay property taxes, but if there are four wage earners in a house, all will be paying to fund local authorities through taxation of their earnings.

At first sight, this does sound a fairer was to pay for education, social care and other council services. But if a change is needed, it should be a UK wide policy, not devolved to the Scottish parliament when the rest of the UK will be lumbered with paying council tax.

The Liberal Democrats have long advocated local income tax and on the eve of their conference, being able to aid its adoption is at least one of the home nations will give it an enormous morale boost.

Council tax is notoriously difficult to collect, as figures published this week confirm. Local authorities across Britain are owed £745million in council taxes, according to a study of 400 councils by the GMB Union.

Glasgow topped the league table with almost £22m of uncollected council taxes followed by Birmingham (£16m), Edinburgh (£13m), and Manchester (£12m).

There are, of course, dense urban areas with thousands of transitional residents, especially students. Whether folk in Glasgow and Edinburgh will be any better off with the local income tax could well determine the political future of Alex Salmond and his independence movement.

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