Sound and Fury: Talk of regicide at the Lib Dem conference signifies nothing

Only the ambitious or the absurd seriously advocate the removal of Nick Clegg

Share

Every Liberal Democrat conference since the Coalition formed has taken place amid reports of potentially fatal opposition to Nick Clegg’s leadership, and the one that starts in Glasgow today is no different. For those who would talk up the drama, the tension between the old-fashioned liberals (of whom the current leader is one) and the more socially democratic activists (with whom Vince Cable is a favourite) is reaching crisis point.

There is certainly some tumult in the ranks. First, Sarah Teather – who shot to prominence as Westminster’s youngest MP when she arrived in 2003 – announced her intention to stand down at the next election, citing fundamental differences with Mr Clegg on such emotive issues as welfare and immigration. Then Tim Farron, party president and would-be Clegg-successor, gave an interview so gushily supportive of Ed Miliband it was impossible not to get the message that Mr Farron, for one, hopes for a Lib-Lab coalition after 2015. Finally, Lord Oakeshott, renowned supporter of Mr Cable, likened Mr Clegg to Michael Foot – who led Labour to disastrous defeat in 1983 – and suggested that the best way to avoid the impending electoral meltdown would be to remove him.

The polls are also uniformly awful. Mr Clegg’s personal rating hovers somewhere below minus-50, even with the slight improvements of the past year. Meanwhile his party’s share of the putative vote has dropped from 23 per cent at the last election to around 9 per cent now, up to three points below the UK Independence Party Yet, despite everything, the Liberal Democrat leader heads to Glasgow in bullish mood – as the interview in The Independent today makes clear.

It will not be plain sailing. There will be the usual smattering of provocative votes; Trident, tuition fees and the 50p tax rate, to name but three, will all feature. But the really tricky one is on Monday and is about the economy. 

Mr Clegg’s critics will argue that the Liberal Democrats, freed from the constraints of coalition, should not and would not support the Chancellor’s strategy. And in a rare move for a leader, Mr Clegg will wind up the debate himself, setting out his views on why withdrawing support for the Government’s economic policy now is both economically and politically ill-advised.

It is a daring move. If he loses, the consequences would be difficult indeed. But the chances of that – as Mr Clegg has no doubt calculated – are relatively slim. Most importantly, the case he makes is a sensible one. Public spending has indeed climbed unaffordably high; moreover, it makes little sense to abandon that position just as the economy is showing signs of improvement. It can only be hoped that the sceptics prove persuadable.

But there are broader considerations in Mr Clegg’s favour, too. One is that, having voted for Coalition, there is more support for making the best of it than there might appear to be. Hence Ms Teather’s complaints have not started a mass movement, despite their articulating views held by many on the Liberal Democrat left. Another factor is that, grumblings aside, many activists think the outlook may be less grim than the polling suggests.

Why? Largely thanks to February’s Eastleigh by-election, won despite its being precipitated by the resignation of the disgraced Chris Huhne. By apparently confirming that Liberal Democrat seats are held on local issues, not national ones, Eastleigh spawned hopes that 2015 might not be a wipe-out after all – a view shared by Mr Clegg.

Whether such optimism is justified remains to be seen. In the meantime, though, only the ambitious or the absurd (or both) seriously advocate regicide. For all the sound and fury in Glasgow, Mr Clegg has, since 2010, played a near-impossible hand with some adroitness – and he will continue to do so until 2015 at least.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Support Workers - Mother's Help / Buddy Support Role

£8 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A gentleman with congenital achondropla...

Recruitment Genius: Training Officer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Training Officer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Specialist - Document Management

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading provider of document ...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

£17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: How much difference does the wording of a referendum question make?

John Rentoul
 

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

Jacques Peretti
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