Nick Clegg prior to giving a television interview during a visit to Hughes Safety Showers on May 21, 2014 in Stockport, England. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Clegg should tell the rebels to "put up or shut up"

The Lib Dem leader should seek a renewed mandate from his party.

"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

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty
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In the row over public sector pay, don't forget that Theresa May is no longer in charge

Downing Street's view on public sector pay is just that – Conservative MPs pull the strings now.

One important detail of Theresa May’s deal with the Democratic Unionist Party went unnoticed – that it was not May, but the Conservatives’ Chief Whip, Gavin Williamson, who signed the accord, alongside his opposite number, the DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson.

That highlighted two things: firstly that the Conservative Party is already planning for life after May. The deal runs for two years and is bound to the party, not the leadership of Theresa May. The second is that while May is the Prime Minister, it is the Conservative Party that runs the show.

That’s an important thing to remember about today’s confusion about whether or not the government will end the freeze in public sector pay, where raises have been capped at one per cent since 2012 and have effectively been frozen in real terms since the financial crisis.

Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, signalled that the government could end the freeze, as did Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary. (For what it’s worth, Gavin Barwell, now Theresa May’s chief of staff, said before he took up the post that he thought anger at the freeze contributed to the election result.)

In terms of the government’s deficit target, it’s worth remembering that they can very easily meet Philip Hammond’s timetable and increase public sector pay in line with inflation. They have around £30bn worth of extra wriggle room in this year alone, and ending the pay cap would cost about £4.1bn.

So the Conservatives don’t even have to U-turn on their overall target if they want to scrap the pay freeze.

And yet Downing Street has said that the freeze remains in place for the present, while the Treasury is also unenthusiastic about the move. Which in the world before 8 June would have been the end of it.

But the important thing to remember about the government now is effectively the only minister who isn’t unsackable is the Prime Minister. What matters is the mood, firstly of the Cabinet and of the Conservative parliamentary party.

Among Conservative MPs, there are three big areas that, regardless of who is in charge, will have to change. The first is that they will never go into an election again in which teachers and parents are angry and worried about cuts to school funding – in other words, more money for schools. The second is that the relationship with doctors needs to be repaired and reset – in other words, more money for hospitals.

The government can just about do all of those things within Hammond’s more expansive target. And regardless of what Hammond stood up and said last year, what matters a lot more than any Downing Street statement or Treasury feeling is the mood of Conservative MPs. It is they, not May, that pulls the strings now.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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