The Alex Wilcock Realpolitik argument for Nick Clegg staying as Lib Dem leader

by Stephen Tall on September 9, 2012

A week ago I set out my three thoughts on the debate over Nick Clegg’s leadership and why I think he should stay. In fact, though my post has been described as ‘strong supportive’ of Nick, it was a little more nuanced than that:

There’s a quite plausible scenario in which Nick comes to the conclusion himself in 2014 that the party’s best interests would be best served by a new leader: he heads off to a new role in Europe or wherever, Vince steps in to the breach. It could happen.

In response felow Lib Dem blogger Alex Wilcock submitted this quite brilliantly astute and typically earthy reply:

I agree with you on all three, but think you’ve missed something crucial with point 2: the central reason Nick is so unpopular is that he’s the Leader of the party that’s betrayed everyone / is having to make a lot of compromises in government, and so is seen as to blame / responsible. It’s very little to do with Nick himself. I thought Matthew Oakeshott was both quite bright and a friend of Vince’s, which is why I’m amazed that he’s been shooting his mouth off about the Leadership this week – only an idiot or an enemy of Vince’s could want Vince to take over the Leadership now, with slightly more than half of the Parliament still to run and two and a half years of betrayal / compromise left to go.

I’m prepared to listen to the case for Nick staying or going in a couple of years’ time. But to suggest that a new Leader would stay shiny from now until the General Election and not rapidly become covered in as many layers of excrement as the current Leader has seems to me to be beyond delusional. If the coalition has broken Nick’s Leadership, the time to judge is close to the end of it, when a potential new Leader would be relatively untainted.

I don’t disagree with the bitingly remorseless logic of that at all.

The only counter-argument is that a new leader might pursue different/better/more popular policies which will spur Lib Dem recovery. Yet Vince is as signed-up to the Coalition’s economic agenda as Nick, even if he appears more wasp-chewingly unhappy about it.

The case for Vince is based on the fact that he is (despite being the creator of the tuition fees policy) relatively untarnished by his association with the Coalition. The only way he can preserve that teflon-cred is by riding to the rescue at the 11th hour, not by taking over at the party’s mid-term nadir.