As the debate about how to deal with the Clegg bubble continues, opinion is split over whether the response should be to ignore them and keep on concentrating our fire on Labour, or to launch a full out attack on the Lib Dems and their policies.
The answer to this conundrum has to be an acceptance that the cause of the Lib Dem bounce is a widespread and deep set antipathy to the political status quo. This needs to be combined with steps to ensure that voters who may have warmed to Mr Clegg realise what it might mean for the country if they lend him their support.
Love bombing of potential Lib Dem voters needs to continue, but Clegg himself and the party’s policy platform need to undergo the scrutiny which the other parties have endured over the past five years but concentrated into the few remaining days before the May 6th.
People have been attracted to the Lib Dems because they are the 'plague on all your houses' party – clearly a valuable asset in this era of disenchantment with the Westminster political system. It is also important to recognise that the other powerful draw is the perception that they are a liberal party, free from the perceived ideological obsessions of Labour and the Conservatives and with an embedded commitment to social progress.
Melanie Phillips wrote earlier in the week about how David Cameron’s decontamination strategy has made him vulnerable to the Clegg factor. Her analysis fundamentally misunderstands the changes which have happened in the UK over the past twenty years. It is David Cameron’s record of change within the Conservative Party and success in presenting fundamental Conservative principles in a way which is relevant to this modern age which gives us the most hope of grabbing back the change vote from the Liberal Democrats.
David Cameron and George Osborne are therefore right to believe that the only effective answer to the Lib Dem surge is to convince the electorate that the Conservatives are the only party which can deliver meaningful change and to clearly spell out how Conservative solutions will deliver a better Britain. What Cameron needs to do in the remaining fortnight is to present this case but in a way which leaves the average voter clearly understanding what change will mean for them.
As well as presenting the case for change it is vitally important for us to expose the hypocrisy of the change message offered by Nick Clegg. David Cameron has been honest about his background and how his upbringing and his family are of fundamental importance to his political beliefs. In contrast to this openness, Nick Clegg has attempted to draw a veil over aspects of his past. If David Cameron’s education and career as a CRD desk officer, special adviser and then corporate affairs adviser is claimed to be a handicap in showing that he understands the concerns of ordinary families, Clegg’s upbringing as part of the European jet set, education at Westminster School, a career as a lobbyist and then a eurocrat – before becoming an MEP and a lobbyist again – epitomises the out-of touch-political class from which the public say they want to escape.
Attacks on the deficiencies in Lib Dem policies on immigration and crime and the highlighting of the fact their pro-federalist view on the European Union are utterly opposed to the wishes of the majority of the British public will be seen as panicked swings to the right if they are not combined with an excoriation of the party’s claims to economic credibility and lack of consistent policies on public services.
The foundations of Cleggmania were laid by the absurd rise of Vince Cable as an economic sage. Despite Cable’s claim that the Lib Dems are the one party which is being honest about the need to deal with the deficit, the party lacks any consistency or credibility on this issue. They have constantly flipped-flopped from one absurd position to another.
Earlier this year the party claimed to have identified £30 billion of cuts and stated that their commitment to cutting spending meant that they were unwilling to even guarantee spending on the NHS, risking the withdrawal of funding from frontline heath care. The desire for short term political gain means that Clegg and Cable are now willing to join in with the groundless Labour claims that Conservative plans to start the process of spending restraint a year earlier than their plans would destroy public services and thrust us into recession.
Eagle-eyed bond traders are likely to realise that a party which is so lacking in consistency will lack the political will to support the difficult decisions on spending priorities which will have to be taken to reduce the deficit over the next parliament – therefore making a hung parliament more of a risk for the gilts and currency markets. Ken Clarke has been absolutely right to point out that giving the Lib Dems the opportunity to block the reforms which will be required to deal with Labour’s economic legacy could lead to a full-scale economic crisis requiring international intervention.
Economic inconsistency reflects the top-to-toe ideological fault lines which run through the party, between the social and economic liberals such as David Laws and Ed Davey and other figures whose political views are far to the left of the Labour Party. The Lib Dems are a ‘hung party’ lacking in any internal consistency. Therefore the battle to warn voters that their inconsistency would wreak havoc in the event of a hung parliament needs to intensify.