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Tory Benefits Campaign 'New Low', As Coalition Begins Slow Separation

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CAMERON CLEGG
PA

The Conservative Party has been accused of hitting a “new low” by launching campaign adverts that target people on benefits, amid signs political parties are gearing up for the next general election even though it is over two years away.

Labour has slammed an online Tory advert that pits “hardworking families” against “people who won’t work” as David Cameron seeks to capitalise on what he sees as a popular move to cut welfare payments.

The advert shows a smiling two parent two-child family followed by an unemployed young man with his feet up.

Labour’s vice-chairman Michael Dugher said the adverts were “dishonest” and designed to “deliberately mislead people” because the majority of people who will see their benefits cut as a result of George Osborne’s Autumn Statement are in work. "This is a tax on strivers, whilst at same time they are giving a tax cut for millionaires,” he said.

Benefit payments are likely to be a key dividing line in 2015. Ed Miliband has said Labour will vote against coalition plans to limit any increase in benefit payments to below inflation at just 1%, a real terms cut. He argues it is not so-called ‘scroungers’ that rely on welfare, but people in low paid jobs and those struggling to find work.

Nick Clegg will defend the coalition’s benefit changes in a speech today, but will seek to carve out a place for the Liberal Democrats as the party of “sensible, centre ground welfare reform”.

Clegg will target both Labour’s opposition to reform as well as a Tory party that wanted deeper “draconian” cuts – as he begins the process of detaching his party from the coalition in preparation for the election.

During internal coalition negotiations leading up to the Autumn Statement the Lib Dems are believed to have blocked Tory plans to cut benefits by £10bn, limiting the squeeze to £3.8bn.

The deputy prime minister, in a speech on the fifth anniversary of his election as Lib Dem leader, will say: "There are some on the right who believe that no-one could possibly be out of work unless they're a scrounger. The siren voices of the Tory right who peddle this myth could have pulled a majority Conservative government in the direction of draconian welfare cuts."

Clegg’s speech and the Conservative adverts point towards a slow decoupling of the two parties from each other rather than a short sharp shock snapping of the coalition a few months before the next election.

The move suggests voters could be in for one of the longest election campaigns in British history, two and a half years, rather than four weeks.