How quickly should politicians wield the knife against their leader when the going gets tough? Two hundred Liberal Democrat activists, including a couple of parliamentary candidates, want Nick Clegg to defenestrate himself now to limit the damage at the ballot box next May. This would, they think, let them regroup around a new leader, perhaps Vince Cable.
I burn no candle for Mr Clegg, but his record in Government is nowhere near as bad as his critics claim. The Lib Dems have won economic credibility in office, but lost trust on public services, especially education (tuition fees) and the NHS.
Among Mr Clegg’s achievements, he can point to reducing tax for the lowest earners, introducing the pupil premium, the Green Deal and same-sex marriage, winning (but then losing) a referendum on voting reform, vetoing deeper welfare cuts, boosting apprenticeships, abolishing ID cards and stalling a Trident replacement. The Lib Dems have pulled the choke lead on some of their more excitable ministerial colleagues and in the next year the Coalition parties must point to the prospect of economic growth.
Mr Clegg’s decision to debate Nigel Farage on Europe is being written up as foolish, a great mistake. It was certainly at cost to himself and his party, but compare that willingness to debate with the cowardice of David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Which would you prefer?
It is also worth remembering how little room for manoeuvre Mr Clegg had in May 2010. He could not prop up Labour, a party ejected from office. If he refused to enter Coalition with the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats would have been accused of leaving Britain in limbo at a time of economic uncertainty, of bottling their one shot at power. Cameron, meanwhile, would have had to listen more to headbangers on the right.
So does Mr Clegg deserve to go? No. But where can he take the party next? His troops want answers – a progressive vision – and he may have less time than he hopes.