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This morning’s must read

June 25th, 2015

The Guardian have a fascinating and detailed piece on the Lib Dem time in government, it is clear how much reneging on their pre-election tuition fees pledge damaged the Lib Dems and the events of May 2014 and the failed Oakeshott attempt to remove Clegg, Vince Cable’s reputation isn’t enhanced by this story.

Nick Clegg discussed resigning as Liberal Democrat leader in the wake of the party’s humiliating reverses in the European and local elections in May 2014, an investigation by the Guardian has revealed.

In a sign of the immense toll taken by four years in coalition, the former deputy prime minister experienced what his mentor and former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown described as the “darkest of the dark nights of the soul”. Clegg consulted several senior colleagues about whether he had become a barrier to the party’s message being heard and whether he should go.

Clegg made numerous phone calls to discuss his position a year before the general election in which his party was reduced from 56 seats to eight. He told one colleague: “If I believe – and I am very close to thinking it – I am the problem and not the solution, I have to stand to one side.”

One senior Lib Dem who spoke to Clegg at the time said: “I told him, ‘You don’t have that luxury – this is your burden now, you have to carry it through to the election. Whether you believe that or not, it’s tough-titty. You can’t now put this down until the election. You can do it after the election if you want, but you can’t do it now.’”

Clegg was talked out of quitting by Ashdown, as well as by his most likely successor, Tim Farron, and most of his closest advisers. They told him to stay in post and fight to defend the cause of liberalism at the general election.

Regarding the impact of the (inaccurate) national polling

It was clear that the Tories had struck gold with their warnings about a possible tie-up between Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP. Voters’ fears were exacerbated by the false impression in opinion polls that the election was a neck-and-neck race between Labour and the Tories. “Our vote was being seriously eroded by the Labour/Salmond thing,” Ashdown recalled. “There was a sort of hidden army of people who were so worried about Labour that they literally came out to vote for the first time.”

I suspect had the Lib Dems stuck with their pre-election tuition fees pledge and Clegg had resigned in May 2014, the outcome of the General Election (and future General Elections) might have been very different for the Lib Dems, that’s something that’s going to spark much discussion among we political observers for years to come. Instead on May the 7th the Lib Dems ended up playing the role of Anastasia Steele to the electorate’s Christian Grey.

The Guardian article is available here

TSE