Will Nick Clegg survive his mauling in the European elections? The front pages this morning don’t do the Lib Dem leader any favours – although his main leadership rivals, Tim Farron and Vince Cable, did by pledging their loyalty to him.
There is considerable suspicion in the party that the polling on the Guardian front page was commissioned by one of Cable’s allies, with or without the Business Secretary’s knowledge or approval. It’s certainly had more impact than an open letter or pithy op-ed, and whoever the ‘Lib Dem supporter’ responsible for the leak is, they’re certainly not a Nick Clegg supporter.
Privately, Clegg has admitted that he wishes his ‘party of In’ campaign had more nuance on the question of reform so that he didn’t sound blindly pro-European. He certainly needs more examples than his beloved anecdote about the time it took eurocrats to define chocolate.
But what happens next? Clegg’s supporters do think he’s safe and few MPs are willing to move against him, so it is difficult to see how one of the mechanisms for disposing of a Lib Dem leader, a majority of the party’s MPs approved a no confidence motion, would succeed. The other is for 75 local parties to call for a leadership contest, which is more feasible and which the Independent reveals Clegg’s enemies are trying to do.
Clegg is defiant that he’s not moving. But the fighting has been more vicious than expected, and one thing he will need to do is to really show that he’s listening to his party, as it is not just the usual suspects who are out for him. This is more easily said than done: all politicians like to say they’re listening after a drubbing like this, but Clegg needs to do the political equivalent of walking around with an ear trumpet in order to win back those who have crossed over to the anti-Nick camp in recent days.