This weekend was always going to be an unpleasant one for Nick Clegg. The delay between the council results on Friday and tonight’s European Election count meant that the pain was going to be drawn out for the Liberal Democrats, giving activists plenty of time to vent their anger at the leadership.
So far, the anti-Clegg mutterings have been fairly limited. There are no big beasts calling for him to go. This could change after tonight’s results, especially if the Lib Dems come behind the Greens. But I suspect that three things will keep Clegg safe.
1). He’s made very clear he won’t go without a fight. Trying to force a leader out of office is an unpleasant and mucky business and I doubt that many Liberal Democrat MPs have the stomach for that fight. Indeed, those close to Vince Cable have always been clear that you won’t find him trying to get Clegg out against his will.
2). I doubt that there would be a coronation even if Clegg did go. Sandra Gildley, the ex Lib Dem MP who is one of those calling for Clegg to go, was on the TV earlier suggesting that Vince Cable could take over until the election after which there would be a full leadership contest. But I suspect that if Clegg was forced out, his loyal ally Danny Alexander would then stand for the leadership. He disagrees with Cable on what the party’s economic and political strategy should be and it is hard to imagine him standing idly by in these circumstances.
3). There is the question of what the alternative is for the Lib Dems. At the moment, they look set to lose a significant number of their Labour facing seats but hang on to most of their Tory facing ones. If they tacked left and quit the coalition early, they would endanger their Tory facing ones but with no guarantee that their position in their Labour facing ones would improve materially.
If Clegg was prepared to go quietly, there might be quite a large number of Lib Dems who would like him to go. But I suspect that those who are prepared to put the party through a long, bloody and divisive battle with no guarantee of success are relatively few in number.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.