Liberal Democrats must look to 'decouple' from Tories following 'worrying' poll

The Liberal Democrats must begin to 'decouple' themselves from the Conservatives if they are to reverse 'very worrying' polling figures from the weekend.

Nick Clegg: Hit by bad polls

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is expected to make a major speech today outlining the Liberal Democrats' achievements in Government.

The speech will follow polls that put the party at fourth and behind UKIP with 8% of the vote.

Simon Redfern, partner at Pagefield, said the polls showed a continuing and ‘very worrying’ trend in which the Liberal Democrats had become a ‘lightning rod’ for people’s frustrations with Government.

The party needed to begin to ‘decouple’ itself from the Conservatives to regain its identity, while avoiding ‘looking cynical’ in doing so, he warned.

‘In terms of comms, the Liberal Democrats used to have an equivalent to Labour’s ‘rapid rebuttal unit’ in which their team would respond very hard if they had not been referred to by the media with regard to a piece of policy,’ said Redfern.

‘They need to rebuild that kind of party structure and free up those both in Government and outside of it to start taking more adversarial views. Every time there is a major announcement, they need their main figures, such as Clegg, [business secretary] Vince Cable and [chief secretary to the Treasury] Danny Alexander, to respond to it.’

Clegg is expected to emphasise his party’s position firmly rooted in the centre ground, while defending welfare reform in today’s speech.

However, following the polls during the weekend Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes faced questions with regard to the party's leadership.

Lionel Zetter, senior counsel at APCO, agreed that the Liberal Democrats needed to begin to split away from the Conservatives but insisted they needed to ‘hold their nerve’ for the time being.

‘In the New Year, we will see a mid-term review in which the party will be able to highlight its achievements,’ he said.

‘They need to hold the line for the next three to six months and then start laying out the policies that differentiate them. If they start decoupling now, they risk being even more badly damaged in the eyes of the public.

'Clegg will also have to decide whether he is confident about holding his own seat and whether he is the best person to lead the party,' added Zetter.

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