With conference season nearly upon us, and a fairly controversial cabinet reshuffle earlier this week, the media reporting left right and centre on calls for Nick Clegg to stand down as Lib Dem leader may be symptomatic of the Liberal Democrats going through something of a crisis of faith. Do we still trust the leader? Are we still blindly carrying on regardless? Will Tom Wood be taking over the Party? Whilst the latter may be a flight of fancy (or possibly a nightmare) it is not outside the realms of possibility that the question of leadership will be raised in Brighton, official agenda item or not.
So what is all the hype? With The Guardian reporting a veritable swathe of senior activists up and down the country calling for his resignation, challenging the reasoning behind his government decisions and generally slagging him off (Lord Smith’s comment about him being a “cork bobbing on the waves” in particular), The Independent a “public challenge from the grassroots” and a LibDemVoice poll claiming 46% want to oust him before 2015, the situation does look grim. The BBC however, paints a slightly better picture; with there being “No Plan B” we are not seeing an admission of crisis should the coalition fail, but rather a reaffirmation of accord (there’s no backup plan because they don’t plan on splitting up) and I think they’re nearer to the target.
What I suggest is this – as the current situation stands, Nick should not stand down. I say this not out of blind loyalty but out of my analysis of the situation, in three parts: the past, the present and the future.
Firstly, the past.
Nick’s leadership of the party couldn’t have come at a worse time. I say this not because of any failing of his, but rather the opposite. Having heard Nick speak at various conferences (both Federal and on one occasion Youth, not to mention a pub in Abingdon) I can attest to the his fervent liberalism, a quality that stands him in good stead within the party, and entranced the nation (the Cleggmania phenomenon). The twist to this came with the results of the General Election in 2010, leaving no party the winner and parliament hung. The next step; coalition. True to his word, Nick entered discussions with the party that gained the most seats, and lo and behold, the unlikely union of Liberal and Conservative was formed, and all the political fan-hitting stool that has happened since, happened. Challenges from within for “getting into bed with the Tories”, challenges from the Tories for being the “tail that wagged the dog” and challenges from the media for just about anything they could write has given Nick a public air of unpopularity. What I say is, this would have happened to anyone. Whether Nick Clegg, Tom Wood, or even Ghandi, whoever had led the party through that election, and into Coalition, would have faced the same challenges, the same criticisms; it’s the victim of circumstance argument, which does not give us just cause to give Nick the boot.
Which brings us nicely up to the present.
The mid-term blues. The honeymoon period for the coalition is over. U-turns and policy blocks and Liberal policies being ignored left right and centre, Coalition Agreement notwithstanding. Let us not forget however, that we have gotten many of our manifesto policies enacted (Pupil premium, lowering income tax thresholds and scrapping ContactPoint to name but a few), something we would not have done had the party not entered the coalition. This is not an argument for keeping him, but rather against removing him (at least at this time). The cake is still in the oven; the knife is still covered in batter when you pull it out, and the lid hasn’t risen. Baking metaphors aside, it’s not over yet. Look at all that has already been achieved (and yes, look at what has been sacrificed as well – the noble art of compromise) and then imagine what else can be brought about in the next three years.
This then leaves me looking towards the future.
Now, regardless of whether some future removal of Nick as Leader would remove him from the position of DPM, I can’t believe his position as such would be tenable without the Party Leadership. I would hope that were he no longer to be DPM, the Coalition could not continue without re-negotiation (because as I understand it, the Liberal Democrat Leader being DPM was part of said agreement). The dissolution of the Coalition would therefore either leave the Tories in minority control, or trigger a general election. Were there to be a general election in the near future, the outcome would be so debatable at this point we may very well end up with another hung parliament, leaving us in the same situation we’re in now. So in the interests of the stability of the Government, Nick must stay.
It is also worth pointing out that anyone who took over from Nick this early in the election cycle would be tarred, rightly or wrongly, with the same brush. Whether or not Nick’s political reputation and career have been completely scuppered is debatable; but even now there are calls for him to be replaced. Rather than ruin a potential future leader (Vince Cable’s name keeps getting brought up) by bringing them in now, in the ethos of not sending good money after bad, if we are to replace Nick at all, we must wait until late 2013, or even early 2014. That way, worst case scenario, we have only lost one good man, not two good leaders.
Assuming it doesn’t explode in an horrific fireball, the coalition has nearly another 3 years left in it, more than half it’s total runtime. A lot can be achieved by 2015; we can fight for more of the Liberal Democrat policies we want to become policy, we can keep trying to limit the damage the Tories are trying to do. Above all else, we can show that we’re not afraid of a tough job, not afraid of a fight, and not afraid to be unpopular for the greater good. So, looking at all this, there really isn’t any crisis, because there isn’t really any question. For the time being at least, It would be both bad to remove Nick, and good to retain him, rendering the question moot. We should, in my opinion, ignore the media; they’ve never been constructive towards us since the coalition formed, and they’re not helping now. All these stories about senior activists bitching about the leadership and calling for resignations is achieving is to create the dissent they’re reporting already apparently exists. If we just ignore them, keep buggering on, and focus more in bringing Liberalism to the country rather than petty infighting, that is how we will realise our goals, not just in the next election cycle, but for the future of British Liberalism
Stuart is the Events Officer for Liberal Youth, although this little number is his own personal take on the situation. It is not representative of the views of Liberal Youth, the Liberal Democrats, nor the Editorship of the Libertine. Although, Tom Wood would make a pretty awesome DPM. Just imagine it.