Lembit Opik has suggested that should Nick Clegg lead the party into the 2015 election he will lead it to disaster.
I like Nick, I think he is a fantastic leader and a Liberal from the old school sitting neither on the left or the right - doing what has to be done but along the lines of Liberal philosophy. The Lib Dems have always been a good base for policy and ideas which had attracted a lot of support both Nationally and locally all the way up to the pinnacle of Cleggmania in April 2010. The party itself is a melting pot of Liberals, Social democrats, pro Europeans, Environmentalists, Local Campaigners and we, for the most part debate and vote on policies amongst ourselves and up until 2010 no one had to think that they would be the tough decisions that have had to be made as to which we run with and which we ditch. He has provided a direction, not necessarily always the right direction but that is a matter of opinion. People can now see that we as a party are not a group of rudderless hippies and a protest vote, we stand for something and will make a difference to their lives if elected.
The Coalition has been a real test for not only the Public's perceptions of the party but the party itself by testing ideology and direction. The Coalition was born out of necessity to rectify the horrific state of affairs the Brown Government had left behind.
I know Libdems who have allowed their membership to lapse because of the Conservatives and I know of more than a few Conservatives who loathe our presence and impact. but it is working. A general consensus has been reached on the broad approaches and it's only large issues like NHS reform, Europe, tuition fees where there is a conflict of ideology. Even as the very junior partner we're getting a lot of our pledges through. Liberal Democrats are making a real difference including eleventh hour interventions on the NHS bill. Would a purely Conservative Government have brought in the Pupil premium? Raised the income tax threshold? carried out Constitutional reform? Unlikely.
No one would deny that the road had been all plain sailing but a remarkable (and unpublished) amount of Libdem work has gone in and the credit for this should go to the top.
Nick is manning the helm and absorbing a lot of the flak that isn't just limited to political criticism but also personal abuse from burning effigies but to dog effluent through the letter box. He has become a national hate figure yet he seems to take it in his stride and carries on doing what needs to be done. Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Labour, students, People on the streets... all seem to treat him with distaste and dislike - even my Mum, who is as apolitical as they come said at Christmas; "I think that Nick Clegg is a bit of a drip."
(Thanks Mum... Though my Grandfather said; "Chris is a bloody Liberal.")
Working with the Conservatives, especially in a Government who has had to make hideously difficult and unpopular decisions was always going to be tough. The Nation needs redirecting and dragging back into the black and to do so means cuts no matter what Labour tell you, reckless spending isn't going to do it and their financial plans don't explain where they are getting the money for some of their schemes. Clegg has swallowed the Jagged little pill and is now trying to cushion the blow, at least offering certain incentives and spoon fulls of sugar to take away the nasty tastes. I doubt many other political leaders or Libdems could have gone into this Coalition and made it work as well.
There have been times when I felt that I have been more than disappointed in Nick. I remember the hurt I felt when tuition fees were raised - it shook my very belief structure to the very core and took a couple of weeks of soul searching before I could come to terms with it as a major sacrifice. Then we come to the NHS bill. I've shied away from talking about it as my opinion of the NHS is far from impartial which I shan't talk about here, I've also, for the same reason not really looked at the bill and can only go on what I've heard. However, irrespective of what you, I or Nick think Spring Conference voted on aspects of the bill and these wishes were not represented in the Parliamentary vote on Tuesday. Is this a case of the Leadership over ruling the members or that they are in the position of the "know" and can make an informed decision as the membership just plain got it wrong? Who's to say, but we're a democratic party and I think that they should have represented the membership. Despite these arguments I find myself thinking; Which leader is perfect? The guy's only human and we all make mistakes and do what we think is right.
When it comes to 2015 though Nick Clegg
Some of the anger coming from activists on the left of the party comes from people who joined seeing the party as an alternative to the New Labour right but Nick said in 2002;
Look, if that's what you think the party is, you're wrong, and maybe you ought to be joining the Socialist Workers party if that's what you want. you can join this party, but you need to understand that we're not the left-wing socialist alternative to Labour, we're a liberal and democratic party
(From Nick Clegg a Biography (kindle edition location 1892-3)
This is true, for the most part although I'm sure the ex Social democrat members feel the same, but as a Liberal I do. The party is not on the left or right but centre doing things that need doing and trying to improve the lot of the majority using good old fashioned Liberal ideas from Mill, to Paine, to Gladstone, to Lloyd George to Grimmond and I think Nick is doing as good a job of that as anyone.
I will back Nick at the next election. Regicide before then will be detrimental and could see the Coalition tear apart before 2015. Likewise putting in a spanking new Leader for 2015 is not a good idea either as they need to be grounded, know what is happening in the party and Coalition and the only people duly placed for that have the "taint" of Coalition upon them too. It would be best for Nick to carry on and lead us as he has done. He has done and is doing a fantastic job and should be allowed to carry on. I can proudly still say - I agree with Nick.