Leading article: The Lib Dems may need a new leader – but not now

Lib Dems have more power in the Coalition than they appear to realise


In febrile economic and political times, leadership comes under even more intense scrutiny than usual. Occasionally there is speculation about whether David Cameron and Ed Miliband will still be leaders of their parties by the next election. The focus on Nick Clegg is greater and more persistent.

On one level, there are good grounds for the introspection within the Liberal Democrats. Their poll ratings are abysmal and threaten to decimate them as a parliamentary party. Mr Clegg's personal ratings are dire. More specifically, Mr Clegg has failed to implement the two constitutional changes with which he was directly associated: electoral reform and a more democratic second chamber. As Deputy Prime Minister he is formally linked to a Conservative Party that still pursues a radical policy agenda rooted firmly on the right.

Undoubtedly there are many policies that Mr Clegg can point to in mitigation and, equally important, to Tory-instigated proposals that he has vetoed. But he cannot deny the evidence of the polls or that he is trapped in a perhaps unavoidable, but nonetheless deeply dangerous, political contortion.

Not surprisingly, there are a few public voices hinting at the need for a change of leadership. Indeed, the surprise is that there have not been more such voices over the past two years. The former Treasury spokesman in the Lords, Lord Oakeshott, has been characteristically vocal. His words carry more weight now that his friend, the Business Secretary Vince Cable, indicated a willingness to lead earlier in the summer. No wonder Mr Clegg returned from his holidays hailing vaguely the need for a wealth tax, a sign of insecurity as his party conference looms.

Dissenting Liberal Democrats need to make their moves extremely carefully. They have shown they can be ruthless, removing Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell during the last parliament. But this is the first time since their formation that they have to reflect on leadership in power.

The reflections have an impact on the country as well as their party. In terms of the country, there is little to be gained by insurrectionary noises now. The economic situation is already frighteningly unpredictable without mid-term fever over Mr Clegg's leadership. Of much greater practical use is for nervy Liberal Democrats to put as much pressure as possible on Mr Clegg to ensure that the second half of this Parliament is more focused on economic growth.

Mr Clegg and his close ministerial allies must become much more assertive in the Coalition. Mr Cameron cannot do without them at the moment, so they have more power than they sometimes appear to realise. Mere words and posturing are not enough. But what is certain to cause inept impotence is never-ending feuding over who should be the party's leader now. Such a scenario is neither in the interests of the party nor the country.

That does not mean the leadership question is irrelevant. It might become urgent and legitimate as the next election moves into view, again both in terms of the interests of the Liberal Democrats and the country. In his somewhat confused interview earlier this week, Mr Clegg seemed to accept that his party has lost permanently the support of some left-of-centre voters while making a headline by proposing a wealth tax, a policy that is more readily seen as one espoused by those on the left of centre.

Vince Cable would not be so dismissive of left-of-centre voters and might be able to win back some of them. He also enjoys a reasonable relationship with Ed Miliband, a partnership that might assume importance after the next election. But that is for another day. For now, senior Liberal Democrats must focus on what they can do with their limited power and, as Paddy Ashdown argued yesterday, give full support to their leader.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent