Thursday, 9 April 2009

Would the real Liberal Democrat leader stand up?

It looks as though the Liberal Democrats might be having some trouble with their leadership. In mid-December last year, Nick Clegg took over the leadership of the party from the temporary interim leader Vincent Cable.

Since then, though, Nick Clegg has been virtually invisible on the television or the radio. Instead, Vincent Cable, or "The sage of the credit crunch" as a Radio 5 presenter called him, has been getting the majority of the airtime for the Liberal Democrats.

No-one would deny that Vincent Cable has been doing a good job. His short stint in charge of the Liberal Democrats brought some stability to the party after the ructions caused by the two previous leaders being forced out. He is obviously an extremely competent, intelligent and careful politician. The same cannot be said for Nick Clegg, but only because he comparatively rarely appears on TV or the radio. What does he stand for?

Nick Clegg needs to be concreting himself in the minds of the public, and instead the majority of the Liberal Democrat air-time is going to his predecessor. When the credit crunch struck this seemed like a sensible policy - Vincent Cable is widely respected in the economic arena. Unfortunately, it has continued. On a recent Radio 5 interview, Vincent Cable was not only discussing the economy, but also many other policies.

I have yet to see any polls, but I would guess that Vincent Cable is much better known (and regarded) amongst the electorate than Nick Clegg. As the election approaches, this may well become a problem for the leader.

And there might be other problems; despite the media stating (with varying degrees of credulity) that Vincent Cable was the only politician to warn about the current recession, the Liberal Democrats are not improving their position in the polls - they are still stuck in the late-teens. Could it be that the electorate do not equate Vincent Cable with the Liberal Democrats?

It is not clear what Nick Clegg can do to correct this. He could try coming to a gentleman's agreement with Cable to appear in the media less, but I can see the media agreeing to this. Vincent Cable is very much a media darling at the moment, and I can bet that the media would prefer to have Cable on over Clegg. What might happen is that the Liberal Democrats as a whole get less attention. Is it a choice between having Vincent Cable on the TV, or no-one?

This will become more of an issue as the next general election draws near. What the Liberal Democrats need to do is associate Vincent Cable with their party in the minds of the electorate without - and this is the important part - making him their leader. It may be an impossible task.

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