Monday, 26 May 2014

Clegg's nemesis

To describe the Liberal Democrat performance in the European elections as a disaster would be generous. To lose all bar one MEP while a party harbouring borderline racists, homophobes and fascists - not to mention an ultra-right and repressive economic and social agenda - tops the poll demonstrates a major failure of the political system. 

Nick Clegg cannot evade responsibility. He is, after all, the leader of his party - although you would be forgiven for taking the view that he shows loyalty to the Coalition first and then his own members - laudable from a pluralistic perspective but moronic when it is not merely unreciprocated but ridiculed by the Tories. There is a question as to whether this catastrophic misjudgement has contributed to the contempt for the party reported by canvassers but it is an epic political idiocy. 

Quite naturally there are calls for Clegg to go early, seeing how much can be recovered from the wreckage. This is a difficult balance to strike, as four years of what, rightly or wrongly, is perceived as becoming subsumed by the Tories will be difficult to expiate. The rational defence that things would have been far worse with a majority or minority Tory government may not play well given the seeming inability of both commentators and the electorate to engage with the reality of pluralism. 

I suspect that Clegg may have lost his party - and that the judgement call will be whether to allow the 2015 disaster to be on his watch or someone else's if there is anyone foolhardy enough to be volunteered. There is only so much obloquy that activists can take when the leader gives the impression that their losses are collateral damage in the greater good. The concept that the leadership cadres can survive without a local base was the hubris that brought down the SDP and a lesson that the Orange Book brigade appears to have forgotten. 

The Liberal Democrats fought the European campaign on the right issues - and are damaged by the pan-European upsurge in distrust and scepticism around EU institutions and structures. Sadly the discourse will revert to withdrawal rather than reform, until the debate moves on to the next ignorant rightist canard. Too late, too little and too disconnected - while Miliband's position has been either to ignore the issues or to engage in a bidding war with kipper Cro-Magnons. 

If Clegg were honourable and a genuine leader, he would consider his position carefully. For all the critics of the Liberal Democrats there are probably more people out there who are vaguely positive about coalition government. Ensuring that this option remains is part of the project going forward. Much more important than the career of an arrogant and increasingly irrelevant politician, and indeed than any current party. 

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