And, so, into the Valley of Death marched Nick Clegg.
The decision by the Lib Dem leader to base his European election strategy on being the most pro-European of the all main parties is, on the face of it, so barkingly mad that it’s actually a stroke of genius.
Mad because despite the public’s default Euro-scepticism – with just 14% of Brits polled saying they see themselves as European, (compared with 48% of Poles, 39% of Germans and 34% of the French) – Clegg intends to rub voters’ noses in it by proclaiming the glories of European integration.
While caveating his remarks to add that his party is not actually “in love with the EU” Clegg wants voters to know (in a shockingly ungrammatical phrase) that they are “Britain’s party of in”.
This is because “Europe means jobs, trade and prosperity” and the other parties are putting “narrow political interest” ahead of the good of the country.
Or so Clegg says.
Actually, the reverse is true. Clegg is putting the narrow tactical needs of the Lib Dems first. This is because they are going to tank in May’s European elections. He knows it and his poor bloody infantry does too.
A recent poll has them crashing to fourth place with just 8% of the vote, thanks to a pincer movement whereby Labour does rather well, topping the poll, with UKIP surging into second place.
The first national poll since the formation of the coalition will give voters the opportunity to punish Clegg and the Lib Dems for all the compromises of government. All the let-downs, u-turns and broken promises that are part and parcel of coalition life.
This is, after all, the historic function of the European elections. No-one is voting about Europe for goodness sake, they are using their vote to punish the governing party, in a consequence-free election, by flirting with the political fringe.
The Greens and BNP have, at various times, benefitted from this arrangement. All the indications show it’s now UKIP’s turn to gain from the voters’ electoral sugar binge. In fact, so inflated have expectations become that unless Nigel Farage is carried shoulder-high along Whitehall it will seem like an anti-climax.
So, bowing to the inevitable, Clegg is using the Euro elections as a loss-leader. In a recession, the smart business leader looks to the long-term. A lack of short-term profitability is a price worth paying for a long-term increase in market share.
This is Clegg’s plan. By giving the Lib Dems the Unique Selling Point of gratuitous pro-Europeanism, he aligns his party with the UK business lobby, which is increasingly anxious at the prospect of any referendum and potential exit from the EU.
By 2015 no-one will remember who ‘won’ the European elections. Frankly, no-one will care. A humiliating performance from the Lib Dems will matter little. What will count is an enhanced reputation as a reliable party of business and, so, a worthy party of government.
Clegg has spent every minute of his leadership of the Lib Dems trying to change their brand and shake off accusations of flakiness and general weirdness.
This is the prize he is really after – credibility in 2015 – and he will mount a doomed campaign and sacrifice his own candidates in May to get it. Genius.