I think Nick Clegg’s handling of the Coalition has led to unnecessary damage to our party. He has acted mendaciously on several occasions, and his market-friendly inclinations have inclined him to pass a number of reforms which have enraged our supporters, from the NHS Bill to ‘reform’ of social security. He is also despised by vast swathes of the electorate as a liar and a fraud. I think that, in the long term, our party is clearly better off without him as Leader. I very much sympathise with those who have tried this out of a keen feeling of desperation and passion for our party and the values for which it stands (one of them is a good friend). It is something which I would have signed if it had come up any time up to about six months ago. They do not deserve hatred or insults.
I also think, however, that he should remain as Leader until after the next General Election. My gut feeling is that the division will alienate our existing supporters to uncertain benefit. This is supported by opinion polling: by 62% to 25%, those who plan to vote for us in 2015 want Nick Clegg to stay as Leader. Furthermore, among those of us who vote for us now, fewer people believe that either of three leadership contenders (Vince Cable, Tim Farron, and Danny Alexander) would do a better job than Clegg. People hate Nick Clegg especially, but more broadly they think that we are tools of a Conservative Party engaging in reactionary class warfare. That is the fundamental problem.
An argument can be made that we need a change of strategy, and that Nick Clegg can’t do this. This is really at the heart of my objection: a change to a leftish, Coalition-ambivalent leader would come across as reeking of desperation, and as phoney. (How exactly Leader X should do this in practice is conveniently left to the imagination.) We would also risk throwing away what support we’ve gained for our successes in the Coalition, most obviously credit for the economic recovery. And, of course, the bloody process of dethroning Clegg and replacing him someone else – and it would be bloody – would make us look like a joke.
Finally, there is the simple fact that a majority of Lib Dem activists still Agree With Nick. Lib Dem Voice polls repeatedly show Clegg as being supported by the majority of activists – he currently rates at +10%. This suggests to me that any effort for change from the grassroots up will result in failure. I am yet to hear about a single MP who actually wants Nick Clegg out, indicating that the Men in Grey Suits will not be arriving any time soon.
We have made our bed. Not only that, we’ve sat in it for four years while our local government base imploded. Now is the time to accept that we will have to lie in it. Let’s make the best of a bad job. Let’s go into 2015 supporting Our Nick – and then let’s get someone else. But now, with the water up to our necks, is not the time to change horses.