Could the Lib Dems stay in the Coalition in the event the Tories dumped David Cameron?

As my Voice colleague Mary Reid notes, today’s Telegraph was keen to alert readers to the contingency plans drawn up by the Tories to carry on governing in the event that Nick Clegg were defenestrated as party leader.

I assume one of those contingency plans was the laughably blatant attempt by Michael Gove to try and undermine Nick Clegg last month and so distract the media from the Tories’ own ongoing internecine warfare over Europe.

Still, it should be a very exciting next couple of months for we Lib Dems if the Telegraph is to be believed (seven words that kill the credibility of most political stories):

The Conservatives believe this summer is the “moment of peril” for Mr Clegg as any leadership coup is expected in the run-up to this year’s party conferences. Senior Tories predict the Liberal Democrat leader is “safe” until 2015 if he is still in post after this autumn.

If this is the level of Tory intelligence it explains a lot. Two reasons…

First, Nick Clegg isn’t facing an immediate threat. That’s not to say he’s not under pressure. Nor is it to deny there’s a significant chunk of party members who’d be glad if he went. But the serious displeasure of a minority isn’t the stuff of coups. And you’ll note that not one Lib Dem MP has called for him to quit. Sure, Vince Cable stands ready, willing and able to take over should a vacancy arise. But he’s not campaigning for it. And Tim Farron is smart enough to know his time is yet to come, post-2015.

Secondly, there remains a scenario under which Nick might still go — but it’s in the second half of 2014, and under his own steam. The scenario isn’t hard to imagine: the party fares badly in that year’s local and European elections; a top job opens up, whether in the EU or elsewhere; and Nick decides to stand down and let a new leader fight in 2015. A year ago that looked pretty plausible. I think it’s pretty unlikely now. But it isn’t impossible.

In fact, looked at objectively there’s only one party in the Coalition which might lose its leader sooner rather than later. After all, an estimated 10% of Tory MPs have submitted letters of no confidence in David Cameron to the chairman of the 1922 committee. Little more than a dozen extra letters could trigger a leadership contest.

Mr Cameron would, it can only be assumed, survive; but how wounded would he be? And if a plausible figure from the better-off-outer contingent of the Tory right-wing pledged to stand against him would he even survive? It’s by no means certain.

In short, if you were to bet on a leadership vacancy I’d put my money on the Tories ahead of the Lib Dems. Which invites the question: has our leadership drawn up contingency plans in the event that the Tories dump David Cameron?

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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13 Comments

  • David Wilkinson 26th Jun '13 - 5:56am

    Clegg is doing a grand job, reduced the number of Lib Dem MP’s at the last election, lost 40% of the councillors, lost 50% of the membership lost MSP’s and AM’s in Scotland and Wales, reduced the party to single figures in the polls.
    Next on the list get rid of those MEP’s in 2014 and his MP colleagues in 2015 and a few more councillors and members on the way and the job is done.

  • Wouldn’t that depend on the new PM who would be able to chose ministers ?

  • Stephen, I think your analysis is right on track. Although being no fan of Nick Clegg, now is not the time for change.

  • If Theresa May finally manages to oust the posh boy in the blue tie, she will most certainly, give very short shrift, to the posh boy in the yellow tie.

  • I agree with Stephen. A year ago, I would have predicted that Nick Clegg would step down a few months before the general election. Partly on an assessment of the political landscape, but also a casual remark Clegg himself made about his “political life”. It looks less likely now.

    It does not look likely that Cameron will be manoeuvred out, but not impossible I think if a scandal (- something Murdochy or big finance perhaps – but ) touched him personally, he would be quickly out.

    I expect there are contingency plans, which basically are to stick rigidly to the coalition agreement. It is the personal difficulties that would be the biggest problem. So far with the exception of some rather silly remarks from Gove and not many others there has been little in the way of ministers briefing against other ministers; in fact less than occurred under Labour. This could change.

  • This story becomes more interesting in the light of today’s news that the Australian Labor Party have dropped their leader, Julia Gillard, who has now resigned as Prime Minister to be replaced by her precursor, Kevin Rudd.
    This development comes from a series of disastrous polls showing many ALP members likely to lose their seats in the forthcoming elections. Evidently the members of the parliamentary party made a pragmatic decision that they stood a greater chance of retaining their seats under Rudd’s leadership than under Gillard’s.
    It’s an interesting question as to whether either the Conservative or the Liberal Democratic membership would show the same type of pragmatism. My estimate is “probably not” — that both parties have looked at the polls and determined that the potential losses are uncertain and at any rate bearable; but it’s possible that members’ minds will become more focused as the 2015 election date approaches.

  • A Social Liberal 26th Jun '13 - 11:40pm

    Peter Tyzack

    It isn’t a media agenda, they are facts – or are you comfortable with the party haemorrhaging activists and losing councillors. Unless the public narrative is very much mistaken, the party is going to take massive hits in the next two years and, even though I am no longer in the Lib Dems, the thought of it angers and saddens me deeply.

  • John Whitney 27th Jun '13 - 6:58am

    Dear Sir,
    I absolutely agree with you I am also a disenchanted Lib Dem member who will definitely vote Labour at the next election. As a Social Democrat I joined the SDP back in the 80’s with great expectations and under Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy the party was moving in the right directions increasing it’s vote and MP’s.
    It all went wrong during those 5 horrendous days 2010, Clegg and his colleagues are nothing but an embarrassment to all true Liberal Democrats. We should be increasing taxation not destroying our public services. “God Save Us”

  • David Wilkinson 27th Jun '13 - 8:59am

    Peter Tyzack,
    I have not fallen a media spin on what is happening to the party, I been a member for 34 years, 28 of them as a councillor and held a varity of officer posts in my local party.
    I well aware we can win the doorstep with a good clear message, I won a by election last August.
    The public is not listening to the words of Clegg, he looked upon as Tory lite.
    The issue of communicating to our members should have been the No 1 priority in 2010 and as only recently happened and is too little, too late.
    The reason why 50% of our members have left is the actions of Clegg and Alexander in being Tory Lite in the Westminister village and them supporting the Tory attacks on the poor and the weak.
    Clegg’s speech to ALDC in Manchester was another example of his lack of vision for the future, it was dull, boring and an insult to those who built the party up over the last 50 years which he as trashed in 3.
    Clegg has 10 months before the Euro elections and if its bad as we think then he should go, the loss of those MEP will be a major blow to the party

  • Steve Griffiths 27th Jun '13 - 12:28pm

    Peter Tyzack

    David Wilkinson is quite correct. I also am an ‘old campaigner’ for the Liberals and Lib Dems and have served my time in various roles, councillor, agent, chair, deliverer, canvasser etc. and I form my opinions on what I have seen myself happen to the party; from within it – not from the media (especially not the Torygragh).

    In my area I have seen whole swathes of formerly active Lib Dem ward organisations disappear or become moribund. That have done so because they do not recognise the current party; it has changed considerably in philosophy and outlook over quite a short period of years. Some of the views expressed by the current crop of members on LDV would have been regarded by me and local colleagues as almost ‘Thatcherite’ in the 1980s and 1990s. I am happy to extend a genuine invite to you to visit wards with me where we once had councillors and good organisations and you can speak to former activists there and ask them yourself, not just rely on what I am saying.

  • While we’re reading the Telegraph:

    “The route ahead for the Conservatives and the Coalition can be mapped out with a degree of certainty. The legislative programme is thin and getting thinner. Both sides want to remain in power, and their leaderships, at least, will settle for another deal if it means staying in government. The broad Westminster expectation is that a recovering economy and Labour’s lack of credibility might be enough to allow the Coalition to stumble into a second term.”

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/benedictbrogan/100223277/with-clegg-safe-the-new-danger-for-the-tories-is-complacency/

    Would any loyalist like to comment on whether the Telegraph have got this right – that Clegg’s game plan in 2015 is Con-LD Coalition Mark 2?

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