Lib Dems target 25% of electorate
The Liberal Democrats can win a quarter of the votes at the next election despite a series of opinion polls suggesting the party has haemorrhaged support since the formation of the coalition Government, senior sources believe.
The party intends to focus on the "soft" Labour and Conservative votes that are believed to be up for grabs, on top of the core support that has stayed loyal despite the tough choices and compromises that have been made since taking office in 2010.
But as activists gathered in Glasgow for the Liberal Democrats' autumn conference a survey of the party's supporters showed nearly half believed Nick Clegg was taking it in the wrong direction.
The Lib Dems secured 23% of the vote at the 2010 election and based on internal polling carried out over the last year senior party sources believe they can achieve a similar - or even slightly higher - share in 2015.
Of the target, around 10% - which fits with the Lib Dems' recent opinion poll ratings - would definitely vote for the party, while the remaining 12%-15% would consider supporting it. Of that latter group, there is an even split between "soft Labour and soft Conservative" voters. But there is very little chance of the remaining 75% of voters changing their minds and deciding to cast their ballot for Mr Clegg's party. A source said the party would not be concentrating on this group at the election.
The source said: "Clearly we lost a lot of support by going in to coalition with the Conservatives but the clear position is that for the people who would vote for us, or would consider voting for us, that isn't their issue. But for the people who wouldn't vote for us, that is an issue."
A key theme of the conference is going to be on "lifting the veil" on the Lib Dems' achievements in Government. As well as promoting traditional Lib Dem achievements, such as ending the detention of children in immigration centres, sources are keen to point out that the party had "tempered" the reforms brought in by the Conservatives. Proposals, including those put forward by venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft to make it easier for companies to fire their workers, were shelved after opposition from the Lib Dems, sources say.
Mr Clegg will attempt to inspire his supporters with a speech at the conference rally, highlighting the party's drive to create a million new jobs in the economy. He will say: "We are the ones that can campaign as the party of jobs. We are the only party that believes in releasing the potential of everyone, creating a society where everybody gets a fair chance in life. And that means making sure they get the opportunity to find work.
"We know that unemployment isn't just about statistics or a rising bill for benefits. It's about ambitions thwarted, potential frustrated, and the spirit-crushing sense that you are not being allowed to take control of your own destiny. And youth unemployment, where people can find themselves left on the scrapheap without even having been given the chance to prove themselves, is a scourge we must tackle.
"But the Liberal Democrats have a proud story to tell on jobs and the economy. We can tell people how we took the right decisions in government to make sure interest rates were kept down and to protect people from the economic crises we have seen elsewhere in Europe."