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

Share

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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
 

General Election 2015: You’re welcome to join us on the campaign's final straight

Lisa Markwell
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk