A leaked government meeting document passed to Uncut reveals that Nick Clegg is gathering his ministers into emergency session early tomorrow morning. None of them is in any doubt just how serious is the situation for the Liberal Democrats. If they win the Oldham by-election, they’ll need to use it to buy time with a bemused media and hostile electorate while they struggle to find a distinct identity. If they lose, Clegg will use the opportunity to bind his ministers close. He will need to project a united front as the Lib Dem grassroots react to the result.
As they munch breakfast in the comfort of the offices of “the institute of government”, Clegg will kick off a private session to discuss the “implications of Oldham”.
For a leader to gather his entire ministerial team to discuss the implications of a by-election result is without precedent. It simply does not happen. Though the spin doctors will downplay the significance, be in no doubt: Clegg understands how perilous his position will be if they do not win today.
Then the session will open up to civil servants and journalists who will help frame a discussion on “Making the coalition work as a partnership of equals”. When ministers have their constituency diaries cancelled in order to attend sessions with titles like this, you know they are in crisis. Über-mandarin, Jeremy Heywood, who has known a few crises in his time, will try and steady the troops with tales of his experience. Peter Riddell, of the Liberal Democrat-supporting Times of London, will attempt to steady the frayed nerves of tired ministers.
Former Labour ministers, who still believe in the progressive alliance, will attempt to pitch some positive alternatives for the junior partners in the Conservative-led government. Though Andrew Adonis has confirmed in today’s papers that he will not take an advisory role with the government, he still holds out hope of a progressive alliance between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. He will wrap up the session with Clegg.
Even hired-hand, John Hutton, will get in on the act. He is leading a session on the “review of public sector pensions and public sector reform”.
The Liberal Democrats lack a unique identity. Electors no longer get what they stand for. Think about it for a minute. Ask yourself the question “what does Nick Clegg stand for”? Tell me that your first answer wasn’t “lying about tuition fees”.
The opulence of Carlton Gardens might calm his lieutenants tomorrow, but Clegg’s crisis will not go away. His party no longer has a reason to exist. They’ve mopped up the toxins in the Conservative party and it has poisoned their own brand. No end of reassurance from old hands will take this elemental problem away.
If any lobby journalists would like a list of agenda items, please contact Uncut and we’ll send it over.