Tackling the leadership jitters

Say what you want about the Conservatives, but they’ve always been good at being ruthless – particularly when it comes to their leaders. The Tories have, or at least appeared to have, a ‘win or you’re out mentality’ for their leaders. There is a clear expectation. Win us the election. If possible, win us a majority. Or we’ll find someone else who will. Anyone with any doubt about that should ask William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith or Michael Howard.

So it’s a strange situation when of the three main political parties, David Cameron is the party leader least under threat. A quick skim of the papers today make unhappy reading for Ed Miliband – The Times leading with the headline ‘Knives out for Miliband as Labour jitters grow’. And Nick Clegg is hardly sitting any prettier, having been the subject of speculation in recent weeks that he might either jump or be pushed from the Lib Dem leadership.

The reason for the leadership jitters are local election results in which Ukip has prospered, the Tories have dropped back, the Lib Dems have been resoundingly beaten and Labour failed to capitalise on Tory losses. Ed Miliband has been accused of running a lacklustre campaign, and hardly helped his cause this week after unfortunate images of him eating a bacon sandwich (which perhaps shows a certain naivety at what the media might do but has little bearing on whether he could serve as PM) and the more important gaffes in a local interview.

But for all the gossip, speculation and innuendo, talk of leadership change is a red herring and is likely intended as a prompt to the likes of Messrs Miliband and Clegg, along with their advisors, to up their game. Labour nailed their colours to the mast when electing Mr Miliband to the leadership in 2010. Short of a major scandal or catastrophe beyond perceived failure at the local elections, it would be foolhardy at best to drop a party leader this late in the game, with the General Election looming. Let’s not forget that party leadership contests tend to be drawn out affairs, and any incoming leader would have little time to stamp their authority and strategies on their party’s machine. And in any case, any incoming leader would be putting themselves in an invidious position as they would still be expected to succeed and would potentially undermine their long-term aspirations and leadership of their party if they didn’t deliver the most unlikely of electoral victories.

One would not be surprised if a Tory or two observed the remonstrations in Labour and the Lib Dems with a degree of amusement. The biggest question facing the Tories after the local elections is not whether David Cameron should continue to be leader, but whether some form of alliance with Ukip is advantageous. And even this is unlikely: the Tories have little wish to see another coalition and the party leadership is unlikely to want to be in hock to a party that, while currently on the crest of a wave, is still defining itself and continues to struggle with the public scrutiny afforded a mainstream political party.

Chris Rogers