After two days of uncertainty, Nick Clegg’s position as Lib Dem leader is beginning to look secure (as I predicted it would). The constituency polls commissioned by the treacherous Lord Oakeshott, which suggested that Clegg and others would lose their seats, have backfired on the rebels (who make Gordon Brown’s would-be assassins look a model of efficiency), with Vince Cable brutally slapping down his representative on earth last night.
Clegg has also won the support of another party grandee in the form of Shirley Williams and the backing of 54 per cent of party members in a Liberal Democrat Voice poll. A ring round by the Sun may have found just 30 MPs (out of a total of 57) prepared to back the leader but there is a difference between the absence of support and outright rebellion. As in the case of the anti-Brown plotters, there is no sign that the rebels have found an alternative leader to coalesce around, with neither Vince Cable nor Tim Farron prepared to play the role of Michael Heseltine in this drama.
Even more encouraging for Clegg is the YouGov polling published in the Times today. It suggests that the party would perform no better with Cable as leader, with its national rating unchanged at 8 per cent. While 42 per cent of all voters believe that Clegg should resign, compared with 30 per cent who believe he should stay, far more significant is that 72 per cent of current Lib Dem supporters and 40 per cent of the party’s 2010 voters believe he should stay, compared with 15 per cent and 38 per cent who believe he should go.
Since all figures in the party agree that it should focus on retaining its current seats at the general election, it makes sense to pay most attention to the preferences of the Lib Dems’ past and present supporters. A majority of the electorate may want Clegg to go, but as the poll also shows, most would not vote for the party in any case.
In the end, it is the inability of the rebels to say with confidence that the benefits of removing Clegg would outweight the costs that will save him.