by Liberal Democrat David Allen 

 

We seem to have a strange consensus for lame duck leadership.  Some want Clegg to hang on until the 2015 election, then step down.  Others want a new interim leader, perhaps Kennedy or Cable, to fight 2015 and then step down. 

 

My contention is that lame duck leadership would be a disaster.  Both sides are engaging with internal party politics, when they should be engaging with what voters think.

 

Since time began, Lib Dems have been exasperated to hear voters say “I don’t know what you stand for.”  However, it is now clear that these voters have a strong point.  We can write any number of detailed policy papers – but voters want to know what we will actually do.  None of the policy papers said bedroom tax, free schools, top-down NHS reform, or tripling fees.  Those, however, are the programmes we delivered. 

 

Are we committed to “centrist” coalition with Tories?  It isn’t clear.  Some Lib Dems seem to say “we’ve come home!”, others “painful duty”, and others “never again!” 

 

Voters will ignore us if we do not give them a clear picture of where we stand and what we intend to do after 2015.  It is, first and foremost, the leader who must define that picture.  To do that effectively, the leader must be clearly in it for the long haul.

 

Let’s suppose we chose “Vince Kennedy”, by acclamation, as interim leader for 2015.  Here’s the interview:

 

“Tell us about your bold new Lib Dem direction.”

VK: “I’m here because, well, we had to try something, didn’t we?  So for 6 months, we’ll do things my way.  Here are our red lines in any future coalition.”

 

“On May 8th, who will lead coalition negotiations?”

VK: “Oh gosh, tough one!  We won’t have time to choose our next leader.  So look, I’ll decide our programme, and lumber my successor with implementing it!”

 

“But they won’t, will they?  Who will succeed you?  Will Clegg come back?”

VK: “Dunno.  Trust us.  Buy this pig in a poke from us.”

 

If you think that’s bad, next let’s interview the alternative lame duck candidate, Continuity (but not for long) Clegg.

 

“Your party are going to sling you out, aren’t they?”

NC: “I’m here to defend our Coalition record.”

 

“What new policies do you have?”

NC: “Not much.  We mustn’t say anything that will make the Coalition look bad.”

 

“What will happen after the election?”

NC: “I shall spin any uptick on our current 6% rating as a triumph, and demand to stay on, if possible as Cameron’s deputy.  I’m about as keen to step down as Robert Mugabe, you know.  Since all my colleagues will also have had to praise the Coalition non-stop for months, they’ll be in no position to make a case for change.”

 

“So will you cling on, or will your party lurch back to the centre-left?”

NC: “Dunno.  It’s anybody’s guess.  Buy this pig in a poke from us.”

 

Enough of these nightmares!  Let’s learn the lessons.

 

If we keep Clegg, we must not kid ourselves we can ride the tiger.  Clegg will control the campaign.  It is bound to be “A Record of Action, A Promise of More, Of The Same”.  Clegg will anchor us to “centrism”, and fight tooth-and-nail not to be a lame duck.  If he avoids total wipe-out, he will probably succeed - though Cameron may well consign us to back-bench obscurity.

 

If we ditch Clegg, we must not kid ourselves we can postpone choice.  We must elect a new leader for the long term.  The successful candidate will be whoever offers us the most philosophically attractive, credible and effective campaign platform.  To the various MPs quietly weighing up their prospects, we should say “Yes, it’s risky.  But now our king has gone, you won’t personally have to play the assassin.  It may be your only chance for ten years.  Are you up for it?”  We can expect a hard-fought contest, but we will then be able to unite around the personality and programme we voted for.

 

These are the respective implications of keeping Clegg, and of ditching Clegg.  But whichever way we choose to go, we must not offer the voters a lame duck.