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Henry G Manson assesses the implications for Labour of Clegg staying until 2015

November 9th, 2012

Any LAB-LD deal is dependent on Clegg going

During this week’s Prime Minister’s Question Time Nick Clegg ruled himself as a future candidate for European Commissioner. The Lib Dem leader’s pro-European credentials were strong. He previously worked for Leon Brittan while he was a Commissioner and as an MEP for the East Midlands for five years. The increasing Euroscepticism of the Conservative Party would have made it impossible for David Cameron to nominate Nick Clegg in this role.

Now the Deputy Prime Minister has ruled out a departure to Brussels it appears he intends to stay as his party’s leader until at least 2015. This has implications for the Labour Party.

Labour has directed a lot of political fire at Nick Clegg since 2010. Many had thought there was a prospect the leader would have faced an internal challenge by now. Instead his most plausible challenger has had to resign over allegations of perverting the course of justice.

    Half-way into the parliament there were hopes for at least one parliamentary defection to Labour. Nothing. His continued survival is a sign of Opposition impotence.

Secondly Labour cannot entertain forming a coalition as long as the Liberal Democrats are led by Nick Clegg. Even if Ed Miliband was minded to, his parliamentary party would not allow it. This limits possible overtures and instead will mean covert without being able to publicly engage it’s harder to create any semblance of a ‘big tent’ opposition parties often aspire to achieve.

The third effect of Clegg lasting to 2015 relates to his public standing and the electoral price it will bring. A Clegg-led Liberal Democrats will likely continue to struggle in the polls. Any credit from economic upturn will surely go to George Osborne rather than a a man with no department. Putting more distance between Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives has yet to bear fruit. Corby could be a massacre for the Lib Dems. More importantly a weak performance at the general election could mean many Conservative gains in the south west of England. A reasonable amount of tactical voting from Labour supporters is crucial to Lib Dems in seats where the reds are third, yet this will drastically diminish without a leadership change. Clegg’s survival is therefore good news for the Conservative Party.

Finally Clegg remaining leader will have a direct impact on televised leadership debates in 2015. We’ve just seen in the USA how Romney’s impressive first performance changed the dynamic for several weeks, albeit not the eventual result. While Ed Miliband will be able to claim it is impossible to ever trust anything Nick Clegg says, it will mean that both Coalition leaders will be able to easily ‘gang up’ on the Opposition leader in a way that someone like Vince Cable would have been less keen to indulge in. It’s not going to be straight forward for the Labour Leader to be seen as ‘the winner’ on these occasiions.

There will of course be some positives for the Labour Party, particularly around capitalising on the resentment of young graduates with considerable tuition debts. (If Labour learns one thing from the Obama election it should be how to register and mobilise young people to vote.) However more Labour people need to accept that Nick Clegg is very likely to remain until 2015. It’s not something they were banking on and not something they will enjoy.

Henry G Manson

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