In a way, it is a joy to see the LibDems going through ringer, even if it's scant compensation for the damage done. This time I'm especially gratified that it is Uncle Vince, the man with an unearned left reputation, getting a hammering. So it turns out that Lord Oakeshott, one of those who set up the SDP in the early 80s (thereby splitting the opposition to Thatcher), had commissioned a series of (leaked) private polls to show how the LibDems face decapitation in 2015. One of the seats set to tumble was Clegg's own. The difference between a Nick vs a Vince-led LibDem party was, according to the polling, one per cent - just enough to make a difference in marginals and preventing the coming calamity from being as, um, calamitous.
In one of those little ironies of which I am fond, Oakeshott - whose career was founded on treachery - was himself outed by Vince, his bestest political friend. Cable, away backpacking around China or something, has confirmed he knew all about the polling, while strenuously denying he had any role commissioning them. Definitely not, I'm sure Vince pleaded long and hard with his friend to stop it.
Marx once noted that history tends to repeat itself twice: first as tragedy, and then as farce. It's not hard to see which Clegg's leadership crisis should be filed under. It reminds me of a time, not that long ago, when another beleaguered leader faced the old cloak and dagger, of intrigue whipping about his person in a gale of backbench denunciation, front bench resignation, and potential defenestration. The foes arrayed against Gordon Brown believed that if he was replaced things would get much better. Never mind the exhaustion of Labour's policy offering and anti-political antipathy arising from the MP's expenses crisis. A return from beyond by Clement Attlee would not have prevented Labour going down in 2010, let alone the likes of David Miliband. Had there been a proper policy overhaul perhaps things could have turned out differently.
This is where the similarity ends, because the LibDems are in a worse position. Switching to Vince might save two or three extra seats. Perhaps breaking the Coalition early might cause a transient uptick in polling fortunes. However, just like the has beens seeking to topple Brown, our hapless plotters cannot see the fundamental malaise afflicting the LibDems. When you're mired in the crap, you become habituated to the smell and, after a while, you're barely conscious of it. Changing who shuffles to the front of the cesspool or what you're saying to passersby does absolutely nothing to neutralise the noxious niff. Unfortunately for the LibDems, they are absolutely stuck between now and polling day. No jockeying for position, no new shiny policies, nothing can avert the drubbing that's coming. What the LibDems need is a deep, steam clean. The sort only a decade of oppositional activity can perform. And then, when seats have be re-won and reputations have recovered, the LibDems might be in a position to throw it away all over again.