Nick Clegg humiliated in local council elections
The Mole: But if Lib Dems hadn’t done so badly, the headlines today might be about Miliband’s failure
Calamity Clegg is on life support after the Lib Dems were hammered in yesterday's local elections. And he's set to take another beating when the votes from the AV referendum are counted. Exit polls suggest a 'No to AV' victory will put the cause of electoral reform back for a generation.
David Blunkett, the former Sheffield city council leader, who saw Labour grab back control from the Lib Dems in Sheffield – Clegg's backyard – said Clegg had gone from "Cleggmania to Pneumonia". Dr Cameron is rumoured to be putting Clegg on a drip feed of little sweeteners to help him through his personal crisis.
'Fall-out Friday' is a watershed for the coalition and will embolden senior Tories – who accuse Cameron of conceding too much to Clegg to prop up his partners in the coalition - to call for a general election sooner rather than later to gain an outright working Tory majority. If that's not possible, there'll be huge pressure on Cameron to stop making so many concessions to the Lib Dems.
Sweeteners Clegg is looking for to keep his party on side - though it's too late for the ousted Nottingham city council leader Gary Long, who's already called for Clegg to stand down - include promises to stop putting more public services out to private tender; to soften the NHS reforms and allow GPs to choose to control health funding; to reform the House of Lords with direct elections by some form of PR; to drop the annual cap on immigration numbers; and to curb bankers' bonuses.
Clegg may survive his personal crisis because the Lib Dems are so weak. Chris Huhne, who many suspect was preparing to wield the knife against him, told his local Solent Radio station early today: "Now is not the time for a new leader." That was hardly a ringing endorsement of Clegg's leadership, but it shows that Huhne thinks his party is not in a position to sustain any further bloodletting.
The only winners – according to IPSOS Mori – are Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, who was heading for outright control in Scotland and Prime Minister David Cameron, whose Tory share of the vote held up surprisingly well in the shires and town halls of southern England, despite widespread cuts in services by councils at the government's behest.
Eric Pickles was spinning like mad before the polls closed saying Labour needed 1,000 gains to show they were on track to overtake the Tories. When dawn broke over bleary-eyed Adam Boulton in the Sky News studio, Labour had gained only around 300 seats - mostly from the Lib Dems and not the Conservatives.
The results showed that overall the Tories early today were trailing Labour by about two percentage points – an amazing result given the unpopularity of the cuts, while the Lib Dems were routed.
The BBC calculated early this morning that, based on an estimate of the Lib Dems' share of the national vote (with half of local council seats still to be counted) the Lib Dems would be reduced to just 21 seats in the Commons if there were a general election today. The same figures project Labour having 340 seats – a majority - and the Tories 264.
But would Ed Miliband really do that well in a general election?
The Labour party made gains from the Lib Dems in the northern cities of Liverpool, Sheffield, Hull and Manchester – where every Lib Dem who stood got booted out – but failed to make a decisive breakthrough against the Tories in the south and lost massively to the SNP in Labour's heartlands in Scotland.
One Labour chum told the Mole that had it not been for Clegg being rushed to the political A&E ward, the headlines today would be over Ed Miliband's failure at his first test as Labour leader. Miliband has not had the impact the unions who put him there had hoped for.
Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal leader, frothed at Cameron in today's Guardian about the dirty deeds done to Clegg by Cameron in the AV referendum, saying that the "bonhomie" of the rose garden had been replaced by lack of trust. Vince Cable condemned what he called the "remarkable vilification" of Clegg by his Tory Cabinet colleagues in the No campaign. "It was utterly disreputable, so much of the campaign," fumed the business secretary.
Clegg's luck is that Chris Huhne had a charisma bypass and that Vince Cable's star has waned after a year in government, with his gaffes including screwing up his review of the Murdoch bid for BSkyB. At this rate, there could be a 'Bring back Charles Kennedy' campaign. ·
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