Lord Oakeshott has caused a stir amongst Liberal Democrats before the party conference which started on Saturday. He argued that if the Liberal Democrats want to hold on to their current MPs they need to ditch Nick Clegg.
He compared the Lib Dem leader’s rating with Michael Foot’s and Thatcher’s in her final epoch of Government. Oakeshott has a point, Clegg’s ratings are dismal and have been ever since the tuition fee row which has poisoned his leadership. According to the latest polling figures, 58% find him untrustworthy, 66% see him as being indecisive and 75% see him as a weak leader. Stunts like the I’m sorry video and a lack of vocal leadership in government from both Clegg and his party have made him unpopular and his party virtually unelectable. Indeed 53% think his party have achieved nothing in government. So much for the ‘responsible party’ line.
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So is this time for a new leader as Lord Oakeshott suggests? I suggest not. There is no-one who can replace Nick Clegg amongst the Party’s ranks and in doing so, turn the party’s fortunes around in the time for the general election. Vince Cable, one of the most prominent Liberal Democrats would be a front runner for leadership if it came about. However the Liberal Democrats have already tried having an elder statesman as leader in the form of Menzies Campbell. The leadership lasted for a year and a half and was unsuccessful. It was considered that Campbell failed to connect to voters, in particular the younger demographics and was replaced without ever leading the Liberal Democrats in an election.
Simon Hughes, Lib Dem Deputy Leader would also be amongst the favourites. However having twice tried and failed to be leader, Hughes is hardly electoral dynamite. Having abstained on the same sex marriage bill, Hughes would cut a controversial figure amongst Lib Dem circles.
David Laws and Danny Alexander would both be contenders. Again there are significant drawbacks to both of these candidates. As Alexander is Chief Secretary to the treasury, he has deep links to the deficit reduction plan. David Laws’ doesn’t have the public profile to lead a party, how can he lead a party when few know who he is, he simply wouldn’t have the time to build a rapport with the electorate before the general election.
It is quite clear that despite Oakeshott’s shots across the bow of Clegg’s leadership that it will more than likely amount to nothing. The Liberal Democrats have no choice but to stick with someone who is at least known in the minds of the electorate. They have no other viable candidate who can turn the party’s lacklustre poll rating around before 2015.