Labour under a more left-wing leader, the Tories bearing right. These are circumstances in which you would expect the Liberal Democrats to flourish. But they are in government and haven’t benefitted from this moment. Instead, they are struggling in the polls, coming fourth too often for comfort.
Part of the problem is that the public simply aren’t listening to Nick Clegg at the moment. As one Conservative Cabinet Minister sympathetic to the Liberal Democrats’ political strategy observes, ‘Clegg can say anything, he’s just not being heard.’
Those close to Clegg believe that this will turn round in time. Their hope is that his apology over tuition fees has drawn some of the sting from the whole trust question and that when it comes to election time the public will concentrate on whether they want Labour or the Tories in on their own.
But as Clegg’s former strategy adviser Richard Reeves concedes in the Guardian today, the Liberal Democrat leader will have to start showing some rewards for this strategy in 2013. If the party is still regularly polling in the single digits this time next year, then what Simon Hughes calls the ‘chatter’ about Clegg’s leadership will be a lot louder.