It never rains but pours – but don’t count the Lib Dems out just yet

By Chris Rogers May 30, 2014 3:00 pm

Few people can want the end of the week more than Nick Clegg.

It’s been a miserable seven days for the Lib Dem leader, who began the week with his party being routed in the European elections. He then suffered the inevitable questions over the future of his leadership, including what has been widely seen as one of the most poorly-conceived efforts at a coup d état in recent political history. But it never just rains, it pours – and just when poor Mr Clegg must have thought the worst was over, Lord Rennard was back in the headlines. Lord Rennard’s statement, but more particularly the reaction it sparked (namely the calls for him to be expelled from the Party), represent a bigger threat to Mr Clegg than Lord Oakeshott’s polling and the questioning of Mr Clegg’s leadership amongst not just the rank-and-file but also senior Lib Dem MPs.

But despite the latest challenge to his leadership, Mr Clegg will weather this particular storm and barring the totally unexpected will be in post, both as Deputy PM and leader of the Liberal Democrats, come the General Election. If anything, he might be in a stronger position than he was before. His immediate leadership challengers have been effectively neutralised (Tim Farron has expressed support for Mr Clegg and Vince Cable, who is seen as a challenger despite his protestations, was hamstrung by Lord Oakeshott’s polling). He also hasn’t come across too badly in public: despite looking tired and almost at his nadir in interviews immediately following the Euro election results his commitment to his party and job was evident. He passed the bacon butty challenge on LBC (is there a wrong way to eat a bacon sandwich?). And he’s been helped by continuing questions over his fellow party leaders, not least of all Ed Miliband’s surprising admission that he doesn’t read UK newspapers, which isn’t going to address the issues around how Mr Miliband is perceived by the public.

Although Lib Dems might think they need a microscope to find a silver lining in their particular cloud, there is perhaps some cause for positivity, particularly if the Party is able to unite itself in the face of adversity. The Party was, after all, expected to perform poorly in local and European elections. To borrow from Lynton Crosby, some of the barnacles have been scraped off the Lib Dem hull this week, and they ought to be able to move forward with less speculation and challenges to their leadership. And, as Benedict Brogan has noted, the aftershocks of Ukip’s ‘earthquake’ have been surprisingly muted – posing the valid question of whether the protest votes of last week will be carried through to the General Election.

As various commentators and political strategists have noted, the Lib Dems could still have a crucial say in who ends up in Downing Street and in the Cabinet this time next year.

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