Vince Cable, definitely not in the Team Nick camp, has finally broken his silence from a trade visit in China to defend his colleague. In the past few minutes the Business Secretary has released this statement:
‘These were exceptionally disappointing results for the party. Many hard working Liberal Democrats, who gave this fight everything they had and then lost their seats, are feeling frustrated and disheartened and we all understand that.
‘Nick did a bold thing in standing up to the eurosceptic wave which has engulfed much of continental Europe. We are the only party to have taken that on and he personally deserves tremendous credit for that. There is no leadership issue. We have also undoubtedly taken a kicking for being in government with the Conservatives and having to take some extremely tough decisions in the national interest.
‘But now is not the time for infighting and introspection. The party must hold its nerve. We must focus on delivering our policies in government and that’s exactly what I’m doing in China, helping British businesses secure contracts with the world’s fastest growing economy.’
Of course the question is when is the ‘time for infighting and introspection’? When it comes to infighting, of those with the fiercest burning ambition to lead the Liberal Democrats would not want a leadership contest now anyway when the party is so close to the general election. Far better to blame Clegg for failing to save his party after the 2015 result, and then come in as the saviour candidate.
But isn’t a humiliating defeat in which the former traditional party of protest in this country is overtaken not just by Ukip but the Greens in the European elections precisely the right sort of time for a bit of introspection and soul-searching? Better now than after the General Election. Even those who think the campaign within the party against Clegg would like more discussion of the party’s strategy.
But Cable and Tim Farron are the two figureheads for the faction in the party who do want Clegg’s head. With both of them pledging loyalty to the leader, the coup that some are agitating for will struggle to gain momentum.