Nick Clegg celebrates his first anniversary as leader of the Liberal Democrats today – and he does have cause for celebration, however muted. After a closely-fought leadership contest, Mr Clegg has established himself, unchallenged, at the head of his party. He has survived several setbacks, not least the contentious walk-out of his MPs over the refusal to allow a vote on Britain's future in the European Union, and most recently the conversation, overheard by a journalist, in which he criticised some of his closest colleagues. In between came much rethinking and a thorough overhaul of the party's economic policies. He enters his second year as leader stronger by some way than he began his first.
The greatest difficulty he has faced, and one he acknowledges with some frustration, is in projecting the policies, even the presence, of the third party at a time when there are two strong main parties in the Commons and a global economic crisis dominates the news. Carving out a distinct identity has been difficult, but his greater difficulty has been to make his voice heard above the two-party hubbub.
In one way, his cause – and his party's appeal – have been greatly enhanced by the authority of his deputy, Vince Cable. As acting leader, he was the right man at the right time and put the party back on the political map. A heavyweight on economic issues, Mr Cable's judgement has repeatedly been vindicated. Solutions he advocates have a way of reappearing as Government or Opposition policy a few months or even weeks later. The trouble is that Mr Cable, through no fault of his own, sometimes seems to be regarded as an economic authority first and a Liberal Democrat second. So while the party remains more forward-thinking than others – especially on ways to help over-mortgaged home-owners and staying "green" in austere times – it has not received as much credit as it deserves.
Still, the party's position in the polls has held up better than might have been expected. And there are signs that Liberal Democrats may be benefiting a little from the dip in the fortunes of the Conservatives. Overall, Mr Clegg has laid a promising foundation. We look forward to his second year.