Nick Clegg: Winning the battle but not having a good war
“I wouldn’t be having this chat unless we were worried about the vote,” is what senior Lib Dems have been telling potential rebels.
But that argument is not getting them very far, as most Lib Dems can add up and see that though the rebel numbers are rising the vote will be won. The Lib Dem leadership wants to avoid a tight vote though.
Deputy Leader Simon Hughes is coming in for particular stick from colleagues. “He’s had more positions than the Kama Sutra on this”, one fellow Lib Dem MP said. “He’s not rubber, he’s putty.”
But it’s the leader most people have got their eyes on.
Nick Clegg himself knows he hasn’t had a good crisis. Even his party critics admit he has an arguable case on tuition fees but has been “facing inward” too much, engaging in a public therapy session with his own parliamentary colleagues rather than selling the policy to the outside world – “doing a Blair” as one MP put it – talking over the heads of his own party to win the argument in the country.
Problem is the pledge/trust thing. He made a huge amount about it in the election campaign and he finds it hard to be heard over the din of people shouting that back at him.
Tories complain that some of their leadership’s persuasion tactics have been a little heavy-handed. One MP was told not to expect any help with the re-selection when his constituency boundary was redrawn and took it rather badly.