The Results Are In, So Where Does This Leave Nick Clegg?

Posted: May 7, 2011 in Uncategorized
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On Thursday 5th May 2011 the public went to the ballot box to register their vote on the Alternative Vote referendum, as well as many areas of the country facing local council elections. Many comentators saw this as the first chance for the voters to pass their judgment on Nick Clegg after his decision to take his party into a coalition with their political opposites, the Conservatives. Indeed, the No campaign on the AV vote implicitly used their campaign literature to press this home.

As I’ve blogged before, the whole campaign on AV was flawed and highly disrespectful to the general public. But the public have voted no, and the media are all too happy to spin this as being an overwhelming vote against Clegg.  On its own, it could be said that the No vote was purely about the systems in use. But combined with this result was the local elections, and the Lib Dems were reduced to almost the level of a minor party whilst Labour made massive gains.

Overall, it’s difficult to see these results as anything other than the country overwhelmingly saying “No” to Nick Clegg, especially as the Conservatives emerged completely unscathed in the council elections. If anything, this is probably David Cameron’s best week since he became Prime Minister, as this will presumably endorse to him that the Conservatives are the right party to be in power.

Meanwhile, at Lib Dem HQ, accusations about Conservative underhandedness over the AV campaigning carry on, as the party looks for answers (or more likely, excuses) which will explain the results. There have been a small number of former Lib Dem councillors calling for Clegg to resign as leader of the party, but it is not them that Clegg needs to listen to. If I were him right now, I would be putting the feelers out amongst voters, and finding out their opinions. It is not uncommon for leaders to face quit calls from their own party members, but the party members are not the people who matter when it comes to elections. If Clegg feels that his resignation will allow the party to regain the ground lost over the last twelve months, then that is what he should do.

Whatever his choice, I do feel that it is a long hard fight for the Lib Dems to justify their position in this coalition, and to regain the trust of the electorate. The Conservative vote is remaining strong because they are doing what they always do, and whilst what they do is not popular, they can probably be said to be the least dishonest party at this moment in time.

Some say that a snap election will be called within the next year, possibly by September of this year, so if feelings remain the same what could we see?

BBC’s Poll Tracker collates all the various opinion polls, including the very influential and respected Yougov poll. The trend since the election last year has been a resurgence in Labour support coinciding with a weakening of Conservative support and a halving of the support for Lib Dems. Translated into an election result, it would probably mean another hung parliament but with the Lib Dems losing a good number of the seats they currently hold. This is where Nick Clegg’s dilemma is. He now has to consider not only what the electorate think of him, but also what the electorate might make of whoever would replace him.

The prospective candidates to replace him would be current Energy secretary Chris Huhne, Deputy Leader Simon Hughes, and President of the Lib Dems Tim Farron. Clegg would need to ensure that whoever takes over has no links to him, otherwise the Lib Dems could be accused of cronyism with Clegg accused of back-seat leading.

There is one other option, that I’m sure would be considered a bit extreme by others – Nick Clegg could resign from the party completely. This would probably be a very last-resort option, but if Clegg resigns, he could face calls to leave the party. And I’m sure that he would be welcomed into a safe seat and a frontbench position with the Conservatives if he did leave.

There are difficult times ahead for Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. Whether they are strong enough to get through, only time will tell.

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