Life isn’t easy for the Lib Dems at the moment. There are few indications it’s going to get easier any time soon. For two years in a row, their councillors have taken a battering sometimes even losing to people dressed as penguins. Where once their by-election tales were of derring-do and shock wins, now they are of lost deposits and placing below fringe parties. They’re in a nose dive and they need a way out. The obvious place to start would be to ditch their leader.
That Clegg has to go is quite obvious. His is a broken brand that no amount of tinkering is going to fix. All Labour would have to do to beat them in every Labour/Lib Dem marginal in the country is show the first 20 seconds of the Lib Dems 2010 election broadcast on a loop. Approximately half of Lib Dems polled agreed that Clegg should not fight the next election. That number is only going to get higher. But it would be a very foolish move to do this too early.
The Coalition is at a difficult stage. They aren’t getting on and they have had their first really public bust up with the tit-for-tat over Lords reform and boundary changes. The Rose Garden love-in has become a bed of thorns for both parties. But they know that they can’t face the electorate now and are stuck with each other until 2015.
Both parties are praying for an economic miracle to inject some hope into a battered electorate before they are forced to go to the polls. But it seems praying is as far as they are willing to go, as neither party is willing to put their best players into the Treasury. While the Tories retain the clueless Osborne and the Lib Dems rely on the spineless and out of his depth Alexander miracles are all any of us can hope for.
It’s just possible that Alexander will get reshuffled out of the Treasury in favour of David Laws. I can’t see him getting reshuffled for anyone else. Osborne must be delighted with his support for Plan AAAARH, and Cameron is too weak to move Osborne. They have to have someone in the number 2 Treasury slot who will support and can work with not against Osborne. David Laws is the darling of the Tory Party and just as likely as Alexander to support Osborne. Either way, it will be up to Osborne – a man mules call stubborn – to change direction to shore up the economy. Keep praying guys.
So unless Gabrielle was right, and Dreams Can Come True the economy isn’t going to turn around quickly. Even if it did, the indicators that the public really feel and might act upon will lag significantly behind any improvement. So we are definitely looking at a full term government. David Cameron knows it – that’s why the Lib Dem poll has worried him.
It can’t be nice being a Lib Dem right now. Nor can it be nice being Nick Clegg and knowing you are a dead man walking. But what is worse, is that Lib Dem strategists have to know they need to allow it to get worse before it can get better.
The Lib Dems also know they can’t break the coalition this early in the Parliamentary cycle. For over two years they have been making heavy weather of the importance of staying the course and proving they are grown up enough to take the rough with the smooth. They know that to leave early would be depicted by every Tory (and Labour) supporting newspaper, commentator and blog as immature flouncing. They are as stuck with the Tories as Cameron is with Osborne.
Because they know they are being stuck in a Government they aren’t especially enjoying, they also know that if they replace Clegg now, they will leave any new leader too tainted by the compromises of Government for too long. Clegg will have to stick it out which is a rotten place to be. One would almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
My prediction is that the Lib Dems will have yet another shocking round of local (and European) election results in 2014. This will give them the excuse they need to rid themselves of Clegg at the right time. Setting in motion a leadership contest that will define where the Lib Dems will fight the election from.
If they have a proper fight between their two wings, the result will make it obvious which way they will lean at the next election, giving their electorate a clearer choice with a better understanding of how the Lib Dems would behave during any potential coalition negotiations. The electorate already have a clearer understanding of how the Lib Dems would behave in Government (this tragically for them cannot be assuages simply through new leadership).
A new leader, elected in time for their conference, will give them the ability to break from the Coalition by Christmas, in plenty of time to fight a May 2015 election on a new platform. It won’t be a complete panacea. It won’t save their most marginal seats. But it might mean the losses are recoverable from not fatal. If their strategists are wise, if they are able to look beyond immediate tactics to their long term interest, they will know this is the best they can hope for.