It took a while for Nick Clegg to confirm that he would stay with his party to 2015, but today his colleague Ed Davey did him a favour (or perhaps not) and confirmed on his behalf that Clegg would stay not just through the next election, but would lead his party into the 2020 election.
He told Andrew Neil on the Sunday Politics:
‘I’m really very supportive of what Nick has been doing, I think he’s the best leader we’ve ever had and I think he’s going to lead the party not just into the next election but into the one after that.’
Ed Davey is obviously trying to fend off accusations that he’s abandoning the club sandwiches and aiming for the leadership himself, but he managed to make himself sound more enthusiastic about Clegg as leader than Clegg himself. Last April Clegg said ‘you bet’ when Andrew Neil asked if he’d stand as leader in 2015. But this time last month, the Lib Dem leader didn’t want to go any further on that, refusing to confirm at a Westminster lunch whether he’d stay around until 2020.
While playing down any suggestion that a loss in Eastleigh would damage his leader personally, Davey was keen to emphasise the Lib Dem advantage in this by-election fight, pointing to the fact that the party is ‘very strong on the council’ and that it has taken seats from the Conservatives in the last two sets of local elections. His description of the party’s candidate underlined this:
‘I think we are going to win – we’ve got a fantastic candidate selected last night,Mike Thornton, he’s lived in the area, he’s got a very strong local record, he’s lived there for 20 years, and he’s very active in the community.’
Which is exactly what the Tories are trying to fight on, too: the local record, albeit without the advantage of local council success.