The life of the modern political leader is spent, in part, looking over one’s shoulder, keeping an eye out for those who would knife you in the back. At present Nick Clegg is widely considered to be the leader most likely to come under attack.
On this occasion, the conventional wisdom is right. A poor performance in May’s local elections will hit the party hardest at their strongest point – local government. Councillors are currently being forced to make crippling cuts to their budgets. They’re closest to the ground. They can see the anger in the eyes of the voters. They know they’re about to lose their seats. In response letters are written to the Times and a former party leader goes off message on TV. Once MPs see their party hemorrhage council seats in their constituencies the pressure on Clegg will increase further.
If he hasn’t at least got AV to show for all of this, Clegg will be in an incredibly precarious position.
But what if a Yes vote is the outcome of May’s referendum? Could it then be Cameron, rather than Clegg, who’s in real trouble?
Over at ConserativeHome, Paul Goodman suggests that Cameron would face attacks from the grassroots and the Tory right for allowing AV. He even goes as far as to suggest Cameron could become a “lost leader“. That the Tory right are unhappy is already becoming old news, but since we reported on their discontent last month, their list of grievances has lengthened.
The announcement of Andrew Cooper as Cameron’s new director of stragey strengthens the hand of Tory arch-moderniser Steve Hilton – the bête noir of the Tory right. The big society is gaining little traction in the Tory Party – nevermind in the country – and yet its architect has secured his grip over the PM and his agenda since Andy Coulson’s departure.
Last week there was a clear ambush of Cameron from the government benches at PMQs. The awkward squad were out in force and they wanted distance, sweet distance, from the Lib Dems on an array of policies.
The right were emboldened by the success of their campaign to stop prisoner voting (with the help of Labour MPs). The man behind the campaign, Cameron’s former leadership rival David Davis, even held a party for those who voted with him in a transparent attempt to butter up the backbenches should Cameron falter.
Cameron’s not in trouble yet, but all of the neccessary threats are present ahead of the storm that’s to come. In the months and years ahead the cries to turn right, to abandon the Lib Dems and to move towards traditional Tory territory will grow stronger. It’s what will cause his eventual downfall, and the downfall of this government.
It’s not just Nick Clegg who needs to watch his back.