Cablegate: (C/Nf) Nick Clegg Tries to Give Uk Voters a Reason to Vote Lib Dem

DE RUEHLO #2363/01 2621616
P 181616Z SEP 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LONDON 002363


NOFORN E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/18/2018


SUBJECT: (C/NF) NICK CLEGG TRIES TO GIVE UK VOTERS A REASON TO VOTE LIB DEM REF: A. LONDON 1886 B. LONDON 732 Classified By: Minister Political Counselor Greg Berry, reasons 1.4 (b/ d).

1.(C/NF) Summary. At the Liberal Democrats' annual fall conference this week, new leader Nick Clegg tried to stamp his authority on the party by pushing through a radical tax cutting agenda calling for a total of GBP 20 billion cut in government spending, an agenda he hopes will be a defining electoral issue for the party in the next election. The tax cuts mark a major shift in Lib Dem policy, previously known for its tax-and-spend agenda, and Clegg's proposals faced some opposition from the left wing of the party. Clegg's attempts to broadcast his anti-tax message and his success in repositioning the Lib Dems to the center ground of British politics were, however, largely overshadowed by the turmoil in the global financial markets and by the continuing turmoil in the Labour Party surrounding Prime Minister Brown's premiership (septels). Consequently, what has arguably been the Lib Dem's most successful conference has largely gone unnoticed by the British public. End Summary.

A Policy Shift for the Party ---------------------------

2.(SBU) The annual political party season kicked off this week when the Liberal Democrats met in Bournemouth for their annual convention. Under new leader Nick Clegg, the Lib Dems have been enjoying a welcome bout of stability, after the turbulent years of Charles Kennedy's leadership - and his well documented problems with alcoholism - followed by the damp squib reign of party elder statesman, Ming Campbell (reftels). The Lib Dems' poll numbers, however, have not improved much in recent months despite Clegg's best efforts, as the resurgent Conservative Party has been the beneficiary of disaffected Labour voters. At present, the Lib Dems are polling at 17 percent, with Labour at 26 percent and the Conservatives surging ahead on 50 percent in the latest polls.

3.(C/NF) Clegg has staked his name, and the fortunes of the Lib Dem Party, on his radical plans to cut taxes, a major departure from previous Lib Dem policies. Of the three main parties, the Lib Dems in recent years have become known for their tax-and-spend plans, using money from higher income taxes on the well-off to fund a host of public services for the poor and elderly. After a tussle with the left wing of his party, who accused Clegg of aping the Conservative Party and of being "Cameron-lite," Clegg's proposals to cut taxes by GBP 20 billion (approx. 35 billion USD) were adopted by conference delegates. This new tax policy is set to form the basis of the party's next general election manifesto and, Clegg hopes, will set the Lib Dems apart from Labour and the Conservatives.

4.(C/NF) Whether or not Clegg's radical new taxation plans will set the party apart, making it distinctive and more popular with voters, is questionable. In the UK's political landscape, the Lib Dems have always found themselves squeezed by either a resurgent Conservative Party or a newly energized Labour one and never been seen by voters as having policies that set them apart in such a meaningful way as to justify voting for a party not likely to take control in the Commons. The one notable exception was the Lib Dem's strong opposition to the war in Iraq, which the Lib Dems alone opposed and which resulted in disaffected voters within both the Labour and the Conservative parties voting 63 Lib Dems into Westminster in 2005 -- the party's high-water mark of popular support. With waning public and media interest in Iraq, the Lib Dems' standing has also fallen. According to media observers and party officials, Clegg's tax cutting agenda is an attempt to outflank both Labour and the Conservatives on the issue, as the Conservatives under Cameron have announced that the party will not commit to tax cuts at this time. The Lib Dems, therefore, aim to replace the Tories as the party of low taxation while also appealing to disaffected Labour voters by targeting the party's proposed tax cuts at lower and middle income earners.

If A Conference Falls in the Forest -----------------------------------

5.(C/NF) With turmoil in the world markets and rebellion among Labour MPs challenging PM Brown, the Lib Dem conference was largely unnoticed by the UK public and much of the media. One Scottish Liberal Democrat MP told us that, on turning up for a press conference at the conference to outline the party's international policies, journalists were only LONDON 00002363 002 OF 002 interested in whether or not he had spoken with a fellow Scottish MP - and Labour Minister of State - who was rumored to be resigning in opposition to Gordon Brown's continued leadership. The night of party leader Clegg's keynote address he was bumped to the third or fourth item on the main UK evening news programs behind stories on the global financial crisis, PM Brown's woes, and Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin.

Comment -------

6.(C/NF) More used to annual conferences dominated by its leaders' indiscretions or personality conflicts (reftels), the Lib Dems finally held a successful conference - but no one noticed. Despite the lack of public attention. party insiders and media observers generally have given Clegg good marks for using the time since his election to consolidate the party's base and reach consensus on the core policies it will present in the next election. The party, in the past, has had difficulty keeping its members on message and defining itself to the public -- a criticism Clegg is clearly attempting to address. Touted just last summer as the possible king-makers in a next election that many saw as likely to be evenly split between Labour and the Conservatives, the subsequent collapse of Labour support and the rise of the Conservatives has meant an end to media attention for the party and left the party struggling to explain to voters why a Lib Dem vote is not a "wasted vote." Clegg's relatively radical attempt to reposition the party's tax policies is an effort to give voters a reason to pay attention to the Lib Dems. Time will tell if the UK public sees it as a bold tactic, or as slightly cynical political gamesmanship. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX

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