"I intend to march my troops towards the sound of gunfire" is a famous quote much loved by all Lib Dems from one of our most revered leaders, Jo Grimond. Right now, the gunfire is not coming from the right or left or ahead of the party leader. It’s small, but it’s none the less significant. And it’s coming from behind him. And so the question is, what should Nick do about it?
Can I suggest Nick considers whether the best course of action is to march towards the sound of gunfire, and if he should be saying "put up or shut up". The received wisdom is that this is naïve politics at best, a suicide mission at worst (and folk in Great George Street are already yelling, "you’re an idiot", as they read this no doubt).Why on earth would a party leader do this when he doesn't "need" to? Certainly, it seems unlikely that any of the party’s constitutional triggers for an election are going to be met. But never the less, that drip drip drip of poison is going to keep seeping away at Nick’s leadership.
But, if he called for an election - what then? We’re a one member one vote party, with the election decided by STV. So there’s no possibility of a stalking horse candidate coming forward, eliminating Nick in some first round before bowing out gracefully. No – there’s just one round of voting, so it really is put up or shut up. And I don’t think anyone will put up.
And then it’s done. There’ll either be no other candidate – and Nick goes forward with clear mandate. Or there is – and there’s a contest over the summer and we come back with a leader who the whole party has had a chance to (re)elect – which I suspect will still be Nick Clegg. And the boil is lanced.
There are many in the party who say that latter scenario is the nightmare one, where the party spends several months fighting itself. That’s probably true. So, a bit like...well, right now really. But I don’t think the summer of infighing will take place. Because I don’t think anyone will stand against Nick. So Nick – may I recommend another military quote to you: "My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking."
Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference