Wishful thinking? Eastleigh shows Lib Dems can win in 2015, Clegg says
Nick Clegg delivered an optimistic assessment of his party's chances in the next general election today, telling them the Eastleigh by-election proves people approve of their choices in government.
Speaking at the end of the party's spring conference, the Lib Dem leader said the party won in the Hampshire seat because of their record at a local and national level.
"They said we’d never win it – the same critics who try to write us off time and time again," he said.
"But, you know what? The naysayers can tear up those political obituaries.
"The odds were stacked against us: a fierce campaign, under a national spotlight, dogged by difficult headlines from day one. Extraordinary circumstances, yet we still won.
"For the first time in a generation we could campaign on our record of local delivery and our record of national delivery too. Every leaflet dropped in the Eastleigh campaign combined both. And, when people took a long, hard look they liked what they saw."
The speech came a day after a Lord Ashcroft poll showed the party were heading for virtual annihilation at the 2015 general election.
The survey of marginal constituencies found Lib Dems would lose 17 constituencies in England and Wales to the Tories and 13 to Labour.
Labour would win a comfortable majority of 84, with a gain of 109 seats in total taking them to 367 MPs.
Even the Eastleigh by-election, which was treated as proof the Lib Dems could do better than expected in 2015, actually saw the party lose roughly as much support as national polling would suggest. However, with Ukip taking votes off the Tories, the Lib Dems clung to power in the seat.
"We didn’t win in Eastleigh in spite of being in power. We won in Eastleigh because we’re in power – locally and nationally," Clegg said.
"The longer you stand side-by-side with your opponents the easier your differences are to see.
"We don't lose our identity by governing with the Conservatives. The comparison helps the British people understand who we are."
Clegg's speech had some harsh words for the Conservatives, as he foreshadowed the way the party will take on their coalition partner in this year's local election.
"The Conservatives, on their own, will never deliver the fairer society – it’s just not who they are," he said.
"They’re like a kind of broken shopping trolley. Every time you try and push them straight ahead they veer off to the right hand side."