It’s the Sunday after the elections before. When I hung up my trainers for this election cycle I was hoping for a bit of a break. Fortuitously it’s also a bank Holiday, better yet, recess. MPs are away until a week on Wednesday. Wonderful.
Sadly however, it seems some party members thought otherwise.
Those behind ‘Lib Dems for Change’ – and that is specifically a change of leadership – presumably a vehicle for Vince Cable, have concerns about Nick Clegg as leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Now, I don’t think a change of leadership is even slightly a good idea, even if I fully understand where these people, many of them friends I respect, are coming from but that’s not to say I don’t have concerns.
Lets say Nick isn’t the most popular person, he didn’t do very well against Nigel Farage in the European Debates, much of the electorate don’t have time for him and voting for an increase in Tuition Fees was a mistake.
But that said, he does deserve some respect…
Yes, he wasn’t able to win the debates on Europe in the face of decades of tabloid myth making but he was the only party leader to take on UKIP on Europe, and is ahead of the pack.
Yes much of the electorate don’t have time for the leader of the Liberal Democrats but seeing as this has always been the case it’s not something which should shock anybody or can be fixed by a new leader, it comes with the job.
Yes, Nick Clegg signed a pledge on fees. He voted contrary to that pledge, he apologised for breaking that pledge and he has been the subject of mockery and venom ever since;
But if you think replacing a man who broke his word on fees with, say, Vince Cable, the Minister who introduced the bill which raised fees will fix the Liberal Democrats image problem as a party you can’t trust to keep to its pledges you probably do need that Bank Holiday rest you’ve denied yourself.
And this goes to the heart of why ‘Lib Dems for Change’ is a spectacularly bad idea.
First, if Nick goes, who replaces him? Vince Cable? The man who didn’t just break his fees policy but wrote the betrayal? I hear if Lembit Opik was asked he’d consider it.
Everyone else is either a minister as knee deep in the Coalition as Clegg, or utterly unknown to the wider population. The idea that there’s a King or Queen across the water untarnished by coalition, who the public are dying to hear talk about the merits of Land Value Tax is as fanciful as it is indulgent.
Second, Time. We don’t have any. The most important and least predictable General Election in generations is a mere 11 months away. Lets say Clegg goes tonight and 250 odd letter signers out of 45,000 Lib Dems rejoice. The leadership election will be finished by August, a month before Conference. We then have 7 Months until the General Election.
7 months to write a manifesto, 7 months to re-tweak our election strategy, 7 months to heal the divisions of the previous 3, 7 months to try to get the public and press to recognises our new leader, 7 months to refute accusations from the Tories that we can’t hack it and from Labour that the new leader’s just the same as the old.
That’s an impossible task, and it won’t be made any easier by:
Third, appearance. Sure, I don’t underestimate those behind this effort at all. They’ve chosen a time of acute distress for the party straight after bad election results, they’ve co-ordinated their media appearances and are building up momentum.
But to those outside the Westminster bubble this is all too clever by half. What the outside world sees is rats fighting in a sack, or porters rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship, or snout in the trough politicians worried about losing their seats, whichever tired cliché works really.
The timing is good for a coup attempt – it is simply terrible for public perception for one simple reason. This looks like MPs seeing bad results and trying to save their own skins from a wipe out that is not likely but is desired by many of detractors and it’s the last thing the party will get credit for.
Divided Parties don’t win elections, and Parties too indulgent to fight each other instead of for their supporters, talking to themselves not about their actions, won’t win votes.
Finally, there’s the wildcard elements at play. I’ve heard from more than one Journo and a well-placed Tory that if Clegg goes, so does the Coalition.
The fixed terms Parliament act sets in stone the date of the next general election but it does have a wrecking ball clause. If a motion of no confidence in the Government is passed in the Commons, or two – thirds of MPs resolve to dissolve Parliament, an election is scheduled for 25 days times.
I’m told that if the Tories can’t have plan A, seeing the Coalition out until the economic recovery is confirmed and firmly in voters’ minds, they quite like plan B. A snap general election.
The reasoning is simple. Miliband is weak, Labour are not trusted on the economy. A snap poll would shock UKIP and swing voters into either maintaining the economic recovery with the Tories or taking a gamble on Labour. If the Lib Dems are rudderless and in the throes of a leadership battle and can’t put up much of a fight under untested leadership, all the better for finishing us off.
Its what Gordon Brown should have done.
I’ve admired my party throughout this parliament. The situation is not fair. Coalition to rescue the UK from dire economic circumstance was the only credible option. We were never going to be able to implement all of our manifesto, 57 Lib Dem MP’s coming to compromise agreements with 306 Tories was always going to be called betrayal. We were never going to get everything right having spent generations out of government and we were always going to get disproportionate blame for what the government either has to do, or has got wrong and an equal amount of pain because of it.
But because of Liberal Democrats in Government we’ve provided stable government, avoided an economic crash, we’ve increased funding for schools, we’ve abolished ID cards, we’ve ended Child detention of Asylum Seekers, we’ve lowered Crime, we’ve established an economic recovery, we’ve cut the deficit, we’ve kept borrowing costs low, we’ve taken 3 million of the lowest paid out of income tax, we’ve set up a green investment bank, legislated for High Speed rail, invested in renewable clean energy, we’ve linked pensions to earnings, given young people help with hundreds of thousands of new apprenticeships and created 1.3 million Jobs.
But most importantly we’ve done what we came into politics to do. To enact our priorities in Government and leave the country in better shape at the end of this parliament than we found it in.
All of that narrative, all of that good work, all of the credit we should hope to claim for doing the right thing by the country and growing the economy could now be lost in the din of a leadership battle.
If we spend the limited time available to us between now and May 2015 fighting a civil war, not the battle to explain our record and win people back, we frankly deserve wipe out.