Andrew Rawnsley: “the Lib Dems chose the right course”

by Stephen Tall on September 2, 2012

An excellent article today from the Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley focusing on the Lib Dems’ current electoral (mis)fortunes — do read it in full, but here’s the conclusion:

By far the most important decision they all made was to sign up to a Conservative austerity strategy they had previously described as madness. The double-dip recession is the single most important explanation for the Lib Dems’ dismal standing in the polls. Until there are signs that the economy is recovering, they are denied what was their central justification for going into the coalition with the Tories, which was to address and resolve a national economic crisis. Mr Clegg has to shoulder a lot of responsibility for that decision, but so too must the two economists in senior positions on the team, namely Chris Huhne and, yes, Vince Cable. Of the business secretary, one Tory says, perhaps mischievously: “He has issues with us. But that’s not his big issue. When it comes to the deficit-reduction programme, Cable can be relied on to defend it.”

In sum, the Lib Dems chose the right course – in fact, the only realistic one – when they went into coalition in the first place. They were bound to pay a heavy penalty in popularity whoever was the leader. And the mistakes they have made are not Nick Clegg’s alone.

I reckon enough Lib Dems appreciate this to keep his leadership safe from imminent danger. He does not have too much to fear at this party conference. The crunch one will be next year. If Lib Dem prospects still look so bleak in 12 months’ time, then his party’s understanding may be exhausted. It is then that the urge to “Kill the Clegg!” and replace him with a new leader who might improve their chances of survival could become overwhelming.