Wales politics

Clegg: Coalition means 'tougher' elections for Lib Dems

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says the upcoming local elections will be "tougher" for his party because of their role in the UK government.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are fielding around a quarter fewer candidates on 3 May than they did in 2008.

On the campaign trail, Lib Dem leader Mr Clegg said the Westminster coalition was taking some "unpopular decisions".

But most voters would choose parties based on local issues, he said.

Asked about the drop in candidates, he said: "I think it's perfectly normal if you consider the changed circumstances compared to the last time we fought these elections four years ago when we weren't in government, when we were not having to face these terribly difficult decisions on public spending and so on.

"Clearly we are fighting these elections in different circumstances.

"Of course it's tougher for the Liberal Democrats. We are in government now taking difficult decisions.

"We are taking responsibility in a way that Labour never did."

The party was focusing its efforts in places where it has a strong presence such as Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham, he said - "councils that we control and we run extremely successfully".

He added: "Obviously in other areas where we might be a little bit more on the back foot we don't have as many candidates this time as we did last time.

"We might have more next time, we might not.

"That is the way political parties have always organised themselves, very sensibly. You cut your cloth to suit the circumstances at the time."

The Lib Dems won about 140 seats the last time Wales' 1,200 council seats were up for grabs four years ago.

Mr Clegg was speaking in Swansea where the city's council is run by a Lib Dem-led coalition.

He was also visiting Fishguard, Crickhowell, Llandudno and Wrexham during a whistle-stop tour of Wales on Thursday.

Local issues

He said: "I don't think we should somehow suggest that voters are not capable of distinguishing between local issues and national issues.

"These are local elections and so people are entitled to vote on local issues and that is what I think most people will do.

"The national picture is very simple in a sense.

"We were left with an unholy mess by the last Labour government."

Because of its inheritance from Labour, the current UK government was facing difficult decisions "and in some cases it means down-right unpopular decisions", he said.

Other European economies were "right on the brink" because their governments had not taken similar action, he claimed.

"We have succeeded to pull the economy back from the brink and that is important if we are going to deliver jobs, prosperity, optimism and hope to Wales in the future," Mr Clegg said.

Responding to Mr Clegg's criticism of the previous Labour government, shadow Welsh secretary Peter Hain, who is chairing Labour's local election campaign, said: "The people of Wales won't take kindly to a flying helicopter visit from Nick Clegg, the sole purpose of which was to try and spin the terrible effects that his government's cuts are having on local communities.

"It's no wonder that the Lib Dems are having such trouble fielding council candidates - even their former activists are turning away from them."

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