Humiliation in Barnsley fuels critics of Clegg

 

Nick Clegg is engaged in a series of last-minute talks with senior Liberal Democrats in an attempt to head off a rebellion at the party's spring conference in Sheffield next week.

Mr Clegg has met a number of backbench MPs, council leaders and peers to shore up his support and limit the damage from Thursday's disastrous by-election result in Barnsley.

The Liberal Democrat leadership fears that anxiety over the party's poor poll ratings and the prospect of losing control of several large city councils in May's local elections could spill over into open revolt. It is expecting rank-and-file rebellions over the Coalition's NHS reform policy and condemnation from the floor over tuition fees.

On top of that, thousands of union members and student protesters are set to picket the conference, which will be particularly embarrassing for Mr Clegg as he is a Sheffield MP.

One of those Mr Clegg is understood to have met is Greg Mulholland, the head of the newly formed Liberal Democrat Backbench Group. He has also spoken with Warren Bradley, the Liberal Democrat leader of Liverpool council and a critic of higher tuition fees. Mr Bradley has warned that the Coalition's cuts could result in the Liberal Democrats being wiped out in the North within five years.

Among others contacted by Mr Clegg are the Newcastle council leader, John Shipley; Richard Kemp of the Local Government Association; and the Liberal Democrat leader of Sheffield City Council, Paul Scriven.

He has warned them that if the party's disagreements are aired in public, this could damage their prospects in May's council elections as well as the chance of securing a Yes vote in the referendum on voting reform. Mr Clegg will unveil a slogan for the conference: "In government and on your side".

The Deputy Prime Minister will arrive in Sheffield on Thursday and attempt to seize the initiative by getting "out and about" with visits to Sheffield Wednesday football club and a high-profile campaign knocking on doors with activists.

A senior Liberal Democrat said: "He'll be reminding people not to forget what we have done. The theme will be resilience. You can't change your philosophy just because you get a drubbing in Barnsley."

Today the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, will turn up the heat on Mr Clegg after his party finished sixth in the Barnsley by-election, behind Ukip and the British National Party. He is due to give a speech suggesting the Liberal Democrats are no longer a distinctive force. "I think it's becoming clear that while there might still be three main political parties, there are only two directions for the future of our country," he will say.

As expected, Labour cruised to victory in a seat vacated by former MP Eric Illsley, who was jailed last month for expenses fraud. His successor, Dan Jarvis, increased Labour's majority to 60.8 per cent. The Liberal Democrats' vote share tumbled from 17.28 per cent to just 4.18 per cent, and the Conservatives' from 17.26 per cent to 8.25 per cent, as Ukip claimed second place.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing