When Lembit Opik suggested that Nick Clegg should resign as Liberal Democrat leader before the next election he was dismissed as a lone maverick. But it transpires that a sizeable chunk of Lib Dem members agree with him. A new survey by Liberal Democrat Voice of 560 members shows that 34 per cent believe Clegg “should be replaced” as party leader before the 2015 election.
This, perhaps, is unsurprising. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, the prospect of an electoral hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully. Lord Oakeshott’s fear that the party might not be able to fight the next election “as a nationwide powerful independent force” is one shared by many party activists. Even so, given the relatively limited dissent we’ve seen so far, it’s still striking that a third of Lib Dem members are now convinced that Clegg must go. Fifty nine per cent say that he should fight the next election and 8 per cent have no opinion.
One option would be for Clegg to step down as Lib Dem leader at the same time that his party exits the coalition. It’s increasingly likely that the Tories and the Lib Dems will adopt a “confidence and supply” arrangement around 2014. As Vince Cable recently argued, it makes sense for the two parties to establish “separate identities” before the general election.