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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there