Two weeks ago on Breitbart London I took a look at what the European elections would mean for each party leader For Nigel Farage it was a case of win or die, and he won. David Cameron never had a huge amount to fret over thanks to some careful expectation management. But for Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, there was always going to be a real possibility of humiliation and/or mutiny.
Fast forward two weeks and the Liberal Democrats have been all but wiped out in Europe, while Labour performed well below what should be expected from the opposition party a year out from a general election. So will Clegg and Miliband still be the leaders of their parties in May 2015?
Clegg didn’t help to calm speculation about his position when he went missing for several hours yesterday, finally emerging with bloodshot, sunken eyes and skin the colour of his rosette to grovel to his grassroots. Vince Cable, on an expertly-timed trade mission to China, was silent, finally releasing a typically long-winded, if unconvincing statement backing his leader. Publicly the rebellion has so far been limited to John Pugh, an obscure backbencher who has to the bewilderment of many apparently been an MP since 2001, a few councillors and two prospective parliamentary candidates.
One yellow mutineer tells me, somewhat optimistically, that he expects more Lib Dem MPs to speak out against their leader in the next seven days. He tells of plotting by an eccentric faction of the party called the Social Liberal Forum, and hints that some Lib Dem MPs with government jobs are “getting focussed on their futures”, weighing up a late attempt to distance themselves from the Tories ahead of next May.
The attraction for conspirators is obvious. Things can barely get any worse for the party in the polls. They will in all likelihood be humiliated all over again in 2015. Slotting a leader seen by the public as a liar, a hypocrite and a collaborator and replacing him with just about anybody else might be their only chance of winning back some of those votes lost to Labour.
Yet this outcome remains unlikely. For everything he has done to hurt his party, Clegg was the leader that put the Lib Dems in power for the first time in a generation. He had the conviction to break cast-iron promises to the electorate in order to gain his party power. Most Lib Dems will respect that, even if voters rightly condemn him for it. In any case, the Lib Dems will probably hold the balance of power again in the inevitable 2015 Coalition negotiations. That is when Clegg’s enemies can strike. For these reasons there will not be a great deal of panic among sensible Lib Dem figures. Clegg will most likely survive and lead his party into the election. It is after the election that the plotters’ time will come.
Ed Miliband, on the other hand, arguably has far more to be concerned about. While Clegg has only been criticised by non-entities, the Labour leader is being attacked time and time again by members of his Shadow Cabinet. “Miliband has got to go. He’s damaged goods, he’s not a Prime Minister,” says one Shadow minister. Another says “there are people in the country who quite regularly say he is a problem”. A Labour MP adds: “I did not meet a single voter who said anything positive about Ed Miliband out of all the hundreds whose door I knocked on”. By one count 16 Labour MPs and one peer have criticised Miliband since polling day.
The bacon-hating Labour leader does not have the confidence of voters in terms of his personality or his policies.
Clearly some civil war specialists in the Labour Party see getting rid of him immediately as the best option. Again, though, this is unlikely. Firstly, it is not immediately clear who would launch a leadership challenge or who would take over, though the recent unhelpful behaviour of Ed Balls and the most obvious replacement, his wife Yvette Cooper, is worth noting. Secondly, Miliband is still the favourite to be Prime Minister after 2015.
He may not be able eat his breakfast without being called a weirdo by the Washington Post but he is still most likely to be in charge of the country next year. Killing him now could go either way. There probably isn’t anyone with the balls to do it.