Nick Clegg leaves Hall Park Centre in Sheffield after voting in the local and European elections. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why both the Tories and Labour need Clegg to survive

Cameron fears the collapse of the coalition. Labour fears a more popular centre-left leader. 

If the Lib Dems lose most or all of their MEPs in the European elections, and endure a similar thrashing in the locals, there will be calls from some in the party for Nick Clegg to resign as leader. With a year to go until the general election, there is still just enough time for someone else to take the reins and try and revive the party's fortunes. 

But for several reasons, even in the event of a complete wipeout, Clegg is likely to survive. First, Lib Dems activists and MPs have been buoyed by the party's unashamedly pro-European campaign and will regard any defeat as an honourable one. "No one can fault Nick's efforts," one told me.

Second, Clegg's political godfather Paddy Ashdown has already moved to shore up his position, warning potential rebels that they will have to answer to him if they attack Clegg after the results. The Lib Dem leader's decision to appoint his mentor as the party's general election chair is regarded as a shrewd one. "Every time there's a crisis, Paddy's on the news channel", a party source notes. Just as Peter Mandelson came to Gordon Brown's rescue in times of trouble, so Ashdown serves as Clegg's political life support machine. 

Third, the most obvious pre-election replacement for Clegg - Vince Cable - has seen his star wane over the last year, while other alternative leaders - Tim Farron, Danny Alexander, Jeremy Browne - are biding their time until after May 2015. They have no desire to lead the party into the toughest general election it has faced for decades. 

But Lib Dem calculations aside, it's worth noting that both the Conservatives and Labour have an interest in Clegg's survival. 

For the Tories, the danger is that Clegg's deposition would lead to the collapse of the coalition and an early general election. While some of David Cameron's MPs might welcome such an outcome, the PM certainly would not. Indeed, he and his staff are already preparing a "Save Clegg" operation for the aftermath of the elections, with a series of Lib Dem "policy wins" planned for the Queen's Speech on 4 June. 

For Labour, the danger is that any replacement for Clegg would succeed where he has failed and revive the party's fortunes. As I've often noted, if Labour is to win in 2015, one of its most important tasks will be maintaining the support of the 20-25 per cent of 2010 Lib Dems who have defected. "We want to wound Clegg, not kill him," one Labour MP told me. In addition to those seats that Labour can hope to win directly from the Lib Dems, strategists point out that in 86 of the party's 87 Tory targets, the Lib Dem vote share in 2010 was larger than the Conservative majority. In 37, it is more than twice as large. Even if Clegg's party partially recovers before 2015, Labour stands to make significant gains. 

Aware of this, some Tory MPs have long hoped that Clegg will be replaced by a more left-wing figure such as Cable or Farron who could persuade the party's former supporters to reutrn home. But fortunately for Labour, their wish is likely to be denied. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

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

0800 7318496