by Stephen Tall on May 28, 2014
Yesterday LibDemVoice reported a survey we conducted of 992 party members on Nick Clegg’s future as party leader. I was one of the 39% who chose the option that Nick should stand down now. Let me explain why…
I have enormous respect for Nick and like him personally. I am sure he’s entirely honourable in wanting to stay on as leader to contest the 2015 general election. If, as seems likely, he chooses to stay I will support him and the party.
However, I think he’s going to find it tough to turn things round. The media, mostly unfairly, has given him a pounding over the past four years. The relentless hostility has taken its toll on his reputation with the public. I seriously doubt that damage can be restored in the next 11 months.
That does not mean the party is doomed, though. According to the psephologists, last week’s local elections indicate the Lib Dems would win c.35-40 seats if the public voted as they did last week.
Such a result would make Nick Clegg the king-maker in the likely event of another hung parliament. And this gets to the nub of why I think in the interests of the Lib Dems Nick should stand down.
The party needs a leader who can negotiate the best deal possible to advance the Lib Dem manifesto.
However, I don’t think Nick will be able to secure a Coalition deal with the Conservatives that Lib Dem members will be prepared to sign up to: there is too much suspicion lingering from the current deal. Nor do I think Nick will be able to do a deal with Labour that he will be able credibly to communicate to the voters as anything other than a complete about-turn on the previous five years of cohabitation with the Tories.
In short, Nick is one of the impediments (not the only one, but a not insignificant one) to the Lib Dems being free to negotiate a second Coalition if that’s the hand we’re dealt.
And if a Coalition deal isn’t possible in part because of Nick’s presence as leader, I can’t see him being content simply to return to the position of third party leader waiting for the 2020 election.
If Nick Clegg stands down now as party leader, though, he would go out with his head held high. And though it’s unconventional and has risks I see no real reason why Nick couldn’t remain as Deputy Prime Minister through until May 2015, allowing the new party leader to present the party’s manifesto unencumbered by the compromises of Coalition.