Only a handful of council ward results have been announced but senior Lib Dem ministers are already moving to distance themselves from the campaign fought by Nick Clegg. Vince Cable rather unhelpfully told Sky News: “The party leader took the gamble of fighting on the issue of Europe, which is a very unusual thing to do in the UK.” A Lib Dem source noted that “having been silent for weeks”, the Business Secretary had “reappeared for a bad night” in order to “position himself as caretaker for post-wipeout panic”.
Meanwhile, fellow minister Lynne Featherstone, responding to the Lib Dems’ fifth-place finish in Sunderland, praised Nigel Farage for “sounding like a human being” in his debates with Clegg (adding that he “came out of them better”) and said of her party: “We’ve lost some of our humanity” (which certainly wasn’t the line to take). While the consensus among Lib Dems remains that Clegg will survive, with his political godfather Paddy Ashdown once again coming to the rescue, the blunt criticism from two senior figures doesn’t bode well.
Update: Lib Dem HQ points out that Cable went on to say some kind words about Clegg, stating that “There isn’t a leadership issue and I think [Nick] has enhanced respect as a result of the fact he has been willing to engage with these difficult issues.”