A recent YouGov survey has suggested that Nick Clegg is the least popular party leader in modern history. With an approval rating of 13% - a huge decline from four years ago when the figure stood at 74%. The future looks increasingly bleak for the Lib Dems. They took a battering at the ballot box in the recent European and council elections, with the campaign likened to a Monty Python sketch.
In the aftermath, Lord Oakeshott resigned and warned that the party is heading for ‘disaster’ with Clegg in charge. If you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the Deputy Prime Minister, his own party members have filed a petition to force him into a leadership contest and ultimately step down. For neutral onlookers his fall from grace has been comedic to say the least, and even though Clegg appears to have little support, his party needs him at the helm more than ever before.
Clegg is adamant he wants to lead his party into the election in 2015 and face the inevitable bad result. The Lib Dems share of the national vote will fall dramatically from the 23% they achieved in 2010, and the number of MP’s they have is likely to half. Clegg is walking slowly to his inevitable political death and he knows it. Although he has the opportunity to save himself the embarrassment that’s coming by stepping down, but not choosing to do so is the right strategy for the long term.
The Lib Dems, if they are to have any chance of being seen as a viable political party over the next twenty years, need to really promote the positive things they’ve achieved while in government. Clegg has found it increasingly difficult to do this whilst in coalition, with the likes of Education Secretary Michael Gove taking credit for the Pupil Premium summing up the problem. The Lib Dems have essentially been a shield to the Conservatives. When unpopular policy has been pursued we’ve all been asking why the Lib Dems haven’t done a thing to stop it. When a policy has been successful, it’s been the Conservatives and not the Lib Dems who have pushed it through and made it happen. The Tories take the credit and Lib Dems take the blame. That’s political suicide.
It’s essential that over the next 5 years, to stop the Lib Dems going into the political wilderness, that whoever takes over from Clegg puts an emphasis on promoting the achievements of the party in government. The Lib Dems need to prove that they were a worthy and responsible member of the coalition, helping to provide stable leadership and making decisions for the benefit of the country.
Clegg stepping down, a leadership contest while in government and a potential breakup of the coalition isn't the right way to do this. In fact, there’s probably no better way to demonstrate that your party is simply not ready for the responsibility of power. Clegg staying on as leader of the party and Deputy Prime Minister for the remaining 11 months is essential and shows that the Lib Dems are a stable part of the coalition, not obsessed with themselves, but more interested in doing the right thing for the country.
Clegg’s own personal approval ratings will probably continue to fall irrespective of how he performs during the campaign. I can’t see there being any change in his fortunes, but if the Lib Dems try and get rid of Clegg now and they’re probably signing their own death certificate.