16 Sep 2013

Wincing Vince and the trouser press

Nick Clegg‘s interviews this morning sounded like an appeal across the airwaves to Vince Cable to come to the morning debate and publicly back the leadership position. Mr Clegg repeatedly said how he backed Vince’s call for more house building and relaxing some councils’ borrowing rules to make it happen.

As yet, there’s no sign that’s done the trick and Vince looks like skipping the debate, staying in his hotel room and spending quality time with his Corby trouser press instead.

Vince remains convinced his leadership is misreading the runes on the economy
, risking a bubble and picking a fight with the membership for the sake of it. Leadership figures say Vince is trying to the rekindle the golden days of his reputation as the nation’s wise economic pundit who foresaw the crash: they speak of his “vanity” and say the rebel amendment is about ripping up the coalition economic plan even if its language isn’t that stark.

Behind it all lurks the thought, nodded to by Chris Huhne in his Guardian column on Sunday, that Nick Clegg has one more moment of maximum danger to overcome. Mr Huhne writes of how the leader is safe until after next May’s local and European parliament elections – perhaps not the most helpful thing he could’ve written but it chimes with many views here.

Those elections promise to be horrible for the Lib Dems and a test of party nerves. It’s the last chance for those like Vince Cable’s longstanding friend and adviser Lord Oakeshott who thinks Nick Clegg should go. Senior figures in the party are already worrying about how they can come out fighting after the expected rout and stop challenges and despondency.

Also lurking is the backdrop of 2015 and equidistance. Vince Cable thinks some in his party’s leadership are determined to close off any idea of coalition with Labour after the next election. He sees Danny Alexander as particularly sold on Tory policies and owned by Treasury orthodoxy. Every time certain people in his party’s leadership ramp up the anti-Labour rhetoric he clocks it and winces.

There is, of course, a lot of economics in the row this morning but there’s a lot of the personal and the political too.

Update 10:40am:

The airwave appeals and behind the scenes pressure worked. Vince Cable’s decided he will turn up at the Lib Dem economic policy debate and vote for the leadership line. It’s the end of a saga which he presumably thought was beginning to do more harm than good or to his own standing and the image of the party.

Update 7:40pm:

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