Nick Clegg's resilience is one of the more puzzling phenomena of contemporary politics. Having humiliated his party consistently for the last four years, the seeming inability of his coterie to grasp reality and the perpetual drubbing in elections and opinion polls appears to have created a bunker mentality. This is doing politics a major disservice, as it moves the spotlight away from the crypto-fascists and their fellow-travellers in UKIP and the malevolent hypocrisy of the Tory right, while at the same time propping up the optimism of a Labour Party seemingly scared of articulating any coherent policy for fear of offence.
Since the recent round of elections, Clegg's hubris has extended to know no bounds. Despite the evidence that he is rapidly becoming irreversibly toxic, rationally or irrationally, and the slow demise of much of his party base, there is no personal acknowledgement of any mistakes, any alternatives to the final acts of farce that could wipe out twenty-five years' worth of political gains next year and for the foreseeable future. As Liberals age, it is very few who remember the disasters of the Alliance, the merger and the time it took to claw back from the abyss into which the centralists and the triangulators wanted to take the party - small comfort in that the 1989 European elections were even worse than 2014, but at least then there was a leader who understood the need to reverse the idiocy.
Clegg does not seem to understand the charge-sheet against him. The enthusiasm with which he embraced not merely the benefits of coalition government, but the venomous toads with which he had to do business created the impression that he was interested in power rather than defending an electoral programme. This is not to argue that every Liberal Democrat policy could have been enacted, but he should have refused to allow himself to be railroaded beyond the limited bounds on which co-operation had been agreed. Co-opted by the Tories, as a whipping-boy and lightning conductor, but pampered through the Westminster village, is it any surprise that those around him could not see the damage on the ground?
Since the loss of the AV referendum, there has been no justification to prop up the Coalition beyond its agreed programme - and a duty to attack the Tories for their anti-libertarian, crony capitalist tendencies. Instead the love-in continued even while his supposed partners were stabbing him from all sides. Instead of admitting that mistakes have been made, particularly over tuition fees, where a simpler approach would have paid dividends, possibly through a Royal Commission on the size, role and funding of tertiary and higher education, and over lunatic measures such as the bedroom tax, this has been a grim pageant of apologies while the Tory right has got on with its own introspective xenophobia.
Clegg's apologists correctly identify that at this stage any change in leadership is a risk - but the biggest risk is that the leadership style will inflict yet more damage on the cause of social liberalism and political pluralism. The utter lack of recognition that the Liberal Democrats carry forward a genuinely radical tradition, whose adherents are not driven by pure economism, as well as other currents within the party, represents a failure of leadership and a wilful neglect of those of us whose politicos were forged through communitarianism and a distrust of a universalism from either left or right. The pandering to lunatic neo-conservatives, masquerading as liberals, is a disaster waiting to happen.
In the meantime, those for whom the continuing priorities of liberty and the individual remain central to political discourse will find themselves alienated. The disappearance of the Liberal Democrats has not been entirely driven through inept and arrogant leadership - but it certainly helps. Unless Clegg restores a sceptical and libertarian position then the voters will make up their minds on the basis of his behaviour and his apparent attitude. His minders, who must have thought his ideological malleability and managerialism were desirable skills when he was elected, may not have much to play around with after the next General Election if they are not careful.