PoliticalBetting.com reports that bookmaker Paddy Power has announced its odds on who will lead the Liberal Democrats into the next general election.
Not surprisingly, Nick Clegg is favourite at 8/15. His closest rival in the betting is Vince Cable at 7/2, followed by Tim Farron at 7/1.
These odds sound about right. A change of leadership is not impossible before the 2015 election but is very unlikely, for three reasons.
First, Clegg intends to maintain the coalition until the last minute. It is not clear what his exit strategy is, or even whether he has an exit strategy. But it is clear he does not want an extended period between the end of the coalition and the election, when the party can re-establish its independence. Without this space, it would be difficult for any rival to mount a challenge.
Second, who would mount a challenge anyway? If Clegg were to resign voluntarily, there would be no shortage of candidates. But if he doesn’t, it is hard to imagine any possible successors wanting to risk their chances by being seen as the assassin. Even without that risk, who would want to inherit the coalition-related opprobrium attached to Clegg? Any serious leadership contender would be better off waiting until after the next election.
Third, the only conceivable circumstances in which Clegg would depart before the election would be some sort of dramatic failure, but what would that be? The bad results in the May elections of 2011 and 2012 did not spark a revolt, so why would similar results in 2013 or 2014 be any different? The tuition fees debacle and NHS reforms did not undermine Clegg’s leadership, so what other policy issues would? Sure, there has been growing disillusionment in the party but different members have different tolerance thresholds – there is no united ‘line in the sand’.
A bad result in 2015 and no coalition afterwards, and Clegg would probably depart. But for now, a trip to the bookies is not warranted.
Meanwhile, the Independent reports that Clegg unveiled a plaque in London to commemorate the founding of the Liberal Party in 1859 – but mistakenly referred to it as a ‘memorial’.
Was this gaffe a Freudian slip? I sincerely hope not.