If only Lord Oakeshott knew how to carry out a coup...

The Lib Dems would be better off with a new leader

Share

I am still quite partisan, I discover. I am unenthusiastic about the present Labour leadership but feel a childish delight in two things. One is the belated discovery by some Conservatives of the virtues of preferential voting. There was a spectacular rant by Max Hastings in the Daily Mail today about the threat of an undemocratic result at the next election, putting Ed Miliband in Number 10 against the wishes of the majority of voters. What bliss it is to be alive as it dawns on the No to AVers that first-past-the-post voting is going to take Ukip-surged seats away from the Tories that the Alternative Vote would have delivered to them.

The other source of childish partisan delight is the fate of the Liberal Democrats. Only the Lib Dems could realise that they have a problem, diagnose it correctly and then make such a mess of putting it right that they leave things as they are.

Winning 7 per cent of the vote in the European Parliament elections was a warning. They were overtaken by the Green Party. But more serious was what happened in the local elections. In London, the Lib Dems were wiped out of council after council. Islington, Tower Hamlets, Brent. In other places, such as Manchester, where the party had once presented a strong opposition to Labour, it yielded to one-party states.

The Lib Dems are facing such a sharp reduction in their number of MPs at the next election that the party’s future is in doubt. They know that changing leader might help save a few. They know that Nick Clegg is personally associated with the U-turn on tuition fees and with breaking promises in general. They also think that this is unfair: all Lib Dem MPs have their hands steeped in the blood of coalition. What is more, Vince Cable, the obvious alternative leader, is the Secretary of State actually responsible for breaking the pledge not to raise tuition fees.  

But this is not about fairness or logic. It is about saving their skins. A different leader at the next election would allow the party to distance itself a little from the unpopular choices it has made in government. Clegg is too far gone, and his success in making a show of sincerity in the TV debates at the last election now counts against him, just as Tony Blair’s rather greater success in the sincerity business now counts against him.

Matthew Oakeshott, Cable’s embarrassing former ally, the Reginald fitzUrse to Cable’s King Henry II, rightly identified the problem. This was how to persuade reluctant Lib Dems that Clegg was a liability and Cable the solution. So he commissioned some opinion polls that unfortunately failed to support that argument. Interpreted correctly, they suggested that Clegg, Danny Alexander and Julian Huppert would hold on to their seats next year, although other Lib Dems might lose. Indeed, a YouGov poll for The Times this week asked a direct question: how would you vote if various people were the leaders of the main parties. The figures for the Lib Dems were the same if Clegg or Cable were leader: 8 per cent.

That is the trouble with polls: people are bad at predicting how they would respond if things were different. I think the Lib Dems would benefit if they were led by some old guy who has been around a bit and sounds as if he knows what he’s talking about. But I cannot prove it with opinion polls: it is a matter of judgement. In this judgement, Oakeshott is right. His trouble is that he doesn’t know how to run a coup.

So the Lib Dems are doomed to fight a deeply defensive campaign next year, in which they will be lucky to save half of their current 56 seats.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash