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By Tim Montgomerie

Clegg-bird-bite-5 I prepared the image on the right in anticipation of many defeated Liberal Democrat candidates attacking Nick Clegg for Thursday's terrible election results for the junior partners in the Coalition… but I had no real opportunity to deploy it.

It's true that a few unknown Lib Dem councillors have said some things against Clegg and these have been picked up by the BBC. The Mirror's Kevin Maguire also got excited on Twitter yesterday when a defeated Lib Dem candidate called for Clegg to go.

But the remarkable thing is how solidarity within the parliamentary Liberal Democrat party – and among the party's other bigwigs – has been holding up. The Independent on Sunday reports that Nick Clegg wasn't taking chances:

"As the full horror of the electoral wipeout emerged on Friday, Clegg hit the phones, contacting more than 50 party figures around the country, many of whom had lost their seats. The charm offensive – which some note has been too rare an occurrence since the coalition was formed – seemed to pay off. All but a handful of defeated councillors came out to defend both Clegg and the coalition."

None of this means that Clegg doesn't have enemies in the party. He does. But they are waiting until the second half of the parliament. The most likely scenario is continuing positioning by Cable, Farron and Huhne in anticipation of Clegg resigning in year three or four. No senior Tories expect Clegg to be Lib Dem leader at the next election. They expect him to step down in the later stages of the parliament so that the Lib Dems have at least a year to rescue themselves with a leader untainted by co-operation with the Conservatives and by the tuition fees u-turn. Clegg may nonetheless stay on as Deputy Prime Minister or, more likely, become an EU Commissioner when a vacancy arises, in 2014.

Ed Miliband, by the way, needs something a little more subtle than appealing for Lib Dem defections via the front page of The Observer. New Labour did these things behind-the-scenes and relationally when they successfully detached some Tory MPs from the parties of Major, Hague and Howard. He would be wise to do the same.

17 comments for: The remarkable solidarity of the Liberal Democrats

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