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Signs of nerves from the Lib Dems

27 March 2011

5:10 PM

27 March 2011

5:10 PM

Judging by today’s reports, it’s fear and self-loathing in Lib
Dem Land. And it’s not just that one of their Scottish candidates has quit the party in protest at its, ahem, "draconian
policies" and "dictatorial style". No, according to this insightful article by Melissa Kite and Patrick Hennessy in the
Sunday Telegraph, there are more manoeuvrings going on than that. Here are some passages from it, by way of a summary:

1) Chris Huhne, waiting in the wings. "Mr Huhne, who ran Mr Clegg close in the last Lib Dem leadership election, has told colleagues privately that he would be interested
in leading his party in the future."

2) A rebrand (back to the SDP?). "The rebranding exercise due to get under way next month will involve a total rethink of the party’s direction and could even include
changing the name and logo, insiders said …. Some party strategists believe the name should change to include the word "social", in order to reassure members and voters that it is
more left wing …. The image of a bird in flight could go in favour of a new logo emphasising fairness and social justice, such as a scale."

3) Personally associated. "Mr Clegg is particularly worried about his own personal ratings and has asked for ideas about good news initiatives he could be associated

4) Election Alert. "Labour are so convinced that the referendum could trigger a meltdown of the coalition that officials have been put on alert to ensure the party is
ready in the event of an emergency general election as early as this year …. Andy Burnham, the party’s election coordinator, and Ray Collins, general secretary, have drawn up contingency
plans …. In a further sign of the febrile atmosphere, the main broadcasters, including the BBC, have contacted the political parties to ask about their views on holding another televised
leader debate."

5) A helping hand.
"One senior Conservative strategist said: ‘If it’s a "no" we are going to need to shore Clegg up a bit. If it’s "no" and heavy Lib Dem
council losses, we are going to have to shore him up a lot …. We might need to throw him quite a lot of concessions to keep this going.’"

Some of this is unsurprising: parties think about their image all the time, let alone when they are wheezing along at about 10 per cent in the polls. But it’s still striking to see Huhne’s name
crop up, in this context, so close to 5 May. One thing that Clegg has largely avoided so far is identifiable, high-profile opposition to his leadership from within the party. Tim Farron, the
favourite to succeed Clegg as Lib Dem party leader, has done battle for the coalition on several occasions. Vince Cable did likewise on the Beeb earlier. Were this to somehow change after the AV referendum, then that "rebranding exercise" could be a rather
violent affair.

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