If you get a call tonight, it might just be Nick Clegg
MORE than 250,000 British households will have their lives interrupted by the Liberal Democrats tonight as the party turns to United States-style election tactics.
An automated recording featuring the voice of leader Nick Clegg will be played down the phone to randomly chosen households in 50 key UK constituencies as part of the party's plans to connect with voters.
The party has also promised to knock on a million doors over the next nine months to hear voters' concerns.
Anyone answering tonight's call will hear Mr Clegg tell them about his address to activists in Bournemouth for 30 seconds and ask them to press buttons on their key pad to select topics and register their opinions.
Those who don't put down the phone immediately – about half in trial runs that used former leader Paddy Ashdown's voice instead of Mr Clegg's – will also be encouraged to contact their local Lib Dem party.
The whole process could take up to four minutes – but party chiefs denied the calls were likely to anger people trying to watch TV or put children to bed.
Mr Clegg, in his first leader's address to the annual Liberal Democrat conference today, will claim that proposed Lib Dem tax cuts would benefit nine out of ten UK taxpayers. "I want this to be the most progressive – most distributive – tax plan ever put forward by a British political party," he is expected to say.
But yesterday, he faced claims he was "out of touch" after being asked in a TV interview how much the basic state pension was. He answered "about 30 a week" – it is actually 90.70 for a single person and 145.45 for a couple. Embarrassingly, the pension was introduced 100 years ago by David Lloyd George, then the Liberal chancellor.
Mike O'Brien, the pensions minister, said the Lib Dem leader was living in an "ivory tower" if he thought pensioners survived on 30 a week. "This just shows how out of touch Nick Clegg is with the lives of ordinary pensioners," he said.
The cold-calling phone technique, imported from the US Democrats, aims to drive home Mr Clegg's message and assess whether voters in key marginals are attracted to the Lib Dems. All the main parties in the UK use phone canvassing but this is thought to be the first time an automated scheme has been trialled to such an extent.
According to Lib Dem officials, the calls will be made in the evening to people whose numbers are in the phone book and who have not requested a block on unsolicited calls. Follow-up calls to people who fail to answer will be made on Thursday.
Danny Alexander, the Inverness MP and Mr Clegg's chief of staff, said: "People are free, if they don't want to take these calls, to hang up."
But Stephen Pound, the Labour MP for Ealing North, said: "This is not just a nuisance call. It shows how screamingly out of touch the Lib Dems are."
Kennedy call for pro-Euro stance
CHARLES Kennedy last night called for the Liberal Democrats to fight next year's European elections on a committed pro-Europe platform.
The party's former leader said the June elections to the European Parliament should allow the party to highlight and take pride in its pro-Europe stance.
His call, at a fringe event at the annual conference, came after the Scottish Lib-Dem leader, Tavish Scott, appointed Alistair Carmichael as his elections co-ordinator.
Mr Carmichael, the MP for Orkney and Shetland and a former Lib-Dem front-bencher, said his first task was to ensure George Ryan, the former MSP, is elected as the party's Euro-MP for Scotland. The Lib-Dems currently hold one of the seven Euro seats in Scotland, but the total is being reduced to six, making their task more difficult as they would need around 17 per cent of the poll – higher than their current poll ratings.
Last night, Mr Kennedy revealed his dismay that, while leader, he was forced by aides and pollsters to adopt a less pro-Europe stance than he felt reflected his views.
He said a "gulf" existed between the negative perception and positive reality of the benefits of Europe, particularly to remote Scottish areas.
He said there was a need to explain Britain's membership of the European Union in a way that shows what could be achieved when the UK had its hands on the "levers of influence", rather than allowing the debate to be about "airy-fairy" and "foostie" concepts.
"If there was a referendum held in my own area of the country, I would have thought, on the basis of the last two and a half decades, I'm confident we would get a Yes vote," he said. "People feel the tangible, practical benefits that flow from participation in Europe on their own doorstep and in their own communities."
Cable rules out return of 10p tax band
THE Liberal Democrats would not look to reinstate the 10p rate of income tax, Vince Cable, the party's Treasury spokesman, said yesterday.
Mr Cable told delegates at the annual conference in Bournemouth that removing people from tax altogether was the best way to help those on the lowest incomes. Under Nick Clegg, the party has committed to a tax-cutting agenda and has pledged to slash at least 4p of the basic rate of income tax.
Asked whether the Lib Dems would seek to reintroduce the 10p rate – controversially scrapped by the government – Mr Cable said: "There are different ways of helping low paid workers deal with their tax problems, and one of them is cutting the basic rate.
"I think introducing the 10p rate again would introduce unnecessary complexity. If you are really trying to help people at the bottom, the most direct way is to get them out of tax altogether."
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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