Published on 4 Feb 2013

Huhne, Clegg and the by-election

Criminal convictions and Liberal politics must spell appalling trouble for the leadership mustn’t they? Maybe, maybe not.

The by-election now triggered in Eastleigh in some ways might hold greater fears for David Cameron than it does for Nick Clegg. Lib Dem strength in Eastleigh is not to be underestimated – the local council is almost a one-party state – see the balance of power here which shows 40 Lib Dem councillors to four Conservatives. I believe two of those Tory councillors are now outside the parliamentary seat as well. If the party selected a prominent local councillor it would surely try to capitalise on what seems to be a popular local council and make it a very (exclusively?) local campaign.

For David Cameron, disgruntled backbenchers will use any ammunition to throw at him and failure to take a seat off the Lib Dems when their national poll rating is flat on the ground will be exploited. David Cameron’s Tory critics will say it is additional evidence that their leader isn’t much of a winner.

For Nick Clegg, a potential headache has disappeared. Chris Huhne in recent weeks had told friends he hoped to resume his frontbench political career if his legal troubles went away.

He’d even told some that he would only accept a cabinet job, nothing below that. Nick Clegg had felt obliged to acknowledge that he had promised Chris Huhne he’d be welcomed back to a big role if his points problem went away. Allies of Nick Clegg acknowledged that he would have to be accommodated and “you couldn’t have him on the backbenches for long” – implying he would make trouble. (Nick Clegg reported his rival leadership campaign to the Lib Dem authorities in the 2007 leadership contest for “smearing”).

Even if the point issue had gone away it was hard to see how Chris Huhne would manage to mount a leadership challenge against Nick Clegg (it would’ve been his third tilt at the job) but his presence, his confidence, his sharp tongue and readiness to deploy it would’ve been a smouldering presence on the backbenches for as long as he sat there and I suspect there will be some around Nick Clegg who have distinctly divided thoughts at today’s news.

Chris Huhne phoned Nick Clegg last night to tell him he’d decided to change his plea and resign his seat. Nick Clegg is said to have been “saddened” and “shocked.”

Just to complicate matters, UKIP leader Nigel Farage is telling folk he’s “mulling over” whether to stand at Eastleigh.

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5 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    Gary,

    Eastleigh could get interesting.

    Even by politician standards Farage has a mouth like a rip in a welly. Anybody voting for the UKIP loonies deserves all they get. Anybody voting for Farage will have to add that flapping lower lip and rictus grin. Ugh.

    Huhne deserves all he will get too. Be interesting to see how his sentence compares to, say, the last five sentences given to “ordinary” Joes guilty of the same offence.

  2. jack says:

    Jon Snow talks tonight about “East Leigh”. It should be pronounced “Eastleigh” without a space in between!

  3. Mudplugger says:

    Hopefully, Nigel Farage will ‘mull it over’ just long enough to extract the £500 deposit from the Petty Cash Tin and submit his candidacy.

    In the present climate, I defy anyone to call the Eastleigh by-election with confidence – and confidence is something Farage has in buckets. And they like a bit of chutzpah in Eastleigh.

    There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune……… didn’t someone write that sometime ?

  4. Ray Turner says:

    I’m not sure it is reasonable to describe the local council as “popular”.

    Look at the turnout for some of the elections. Most registered electors didn’t vote for the Lib Dems. They didn’t vote for anybody else either, disgrunbtled with all politicians…..

    And at parish level, the Lib Dems sometimes get in by default, because seats are allowed to go uncontested.

    The Lib Dem machine in Eastleigh is exactly that, an effective machine, good at getting its supporters out and neutralising the opposition, rather than a genuinely popular political party.

    The by-election will be very intersting.

    If only I had £500 to waste, I’d have a crack at it myself…!

  5. Ian Thatcher says:

    Recent political history has shown how far the Lib Dems are from when the SDP promised to ‘change the face of politics’. A senior Lib Dem had to step down from Cabinet because of fraudulent expense claims for a boyfriend and now we see another fall on the political sword by lying in a legal case. On top of this the party has gone back on election manifesto promises, most notably over student fees. Finally, it is in government propping up a right-wing regime – this from a party that used to be on the radical left of UK politics. All in all – what a shambles; who would vote for this party ever again, or at least for the foreseeable future?

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