07:42 Friday 13th June 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[P]AUL STAINTON: The Cambridge Liberal Democrats will vote this evening on whether to support Nick Clegg’s leadership of the party in the run-up to the General Election. So is the “I agree with Nick” era well and truly behind us, and who are the other contenders for thee top job if Nick was to get shoved aside? Well let’s talk to Look East political reporter Andrew Sinclair. Andrew, morning.
ANDREW SINCLAIR: Hi Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Of course Cambridge can vote any way they like. On their own they’re not going to oust Nick, are they? But it maybe an idea of how the grass roots of the party are thinking?
ANDREW SINCLAIR: Oh yes, very much so. The background to all this is a dire set of election results three weeks ago which saw the LibDems lose yet another raft of councillors, and very notably lose control of Cambridge City Council, which was one of the jewels in the LibDem crown. And then, in the European elections, they lost nearly all of their MEPs including Andrew Duff in the East, and they polled fewer votes than the Green Party. And an opinin poll yesterday put them on just 6%. And yes, you’re right. With less than a year to go until the General Election many LibDems are now jumpy. Half a dozen people wrote a letter calling for this vote to be held tonight in Cambridge. Now that’s out of a total membership of 100. But I’m told there are many more who have concerns. Just how many more we’ll find out tonight.
PAUL STAINTON: The people who have put this letter together have signed it of course. They’ve put their head above the parapet, and they’ll be hoping they’ve got backers tonight perhaps.
ANDREW SINCLAIR: Yes. This is all connected to a series of unofficial and unauthorised opinion polls, which were carried out a couple of weeks ago by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott. Now one of the places he polled was Cambridge, and there he concluded that at the moment Labour were ahead of Julian Huppert by thirteen points. But he claimed if Vince Cable were party leader, that lead would fall to just one point. And that’s what’s encouraged this call for a vote tonight. But there’s also another group in the local party Paul which says it’s not just the Leader who’s the problem, it’s not really the Leader who’s the problem at all, it’s the policies. David Howard, former MP for Cambridge is very keen to see the LibDems tack a bit more to the left. So in short, the LibDems know they’re in a hole. They’re just divided on how to get out of it. Do they change the Leader, or do they change the policies?
PAUL STAINTON: Well the party leadership of course say they’ve no plans for Nick Clegg to go.
ANDREW SINCLAIR: No. The official line, and Julian Huppert also agrees with this, is that changing leaders so close to a General Election would be suicidal. Stephen Robinson is the Chair of the East of England LibDems. He admits the party needs to do more to win back voters, but he says removing Nick Clegg is not the way forward.
STEPHEN ROBINSON: The Liberal Democrats know that we’ve got to up our game and get our message across. That’s what we’re about, and we’re not going to be changing the Leader.
ANDREW SINCLAIR: So why have people in Cambridge, or a few people in Cambridge, kicking up a fuss about this, and calling for a change of Leader?
STEPHEN ROBINSON: When things are tough, when things go wrong and not as you expect, often people will want to blame someone. But it’s not just Nick Clegg’s fault. It’s about the message that we all have to get across to people, and it’s about campaigning on the ground and in the media. And to get across the fact that we are delivering success in government.
PAUL STAINTON: So Andrew which way do you expect the vote in Cambridge to go tonight?
ANDREW SINCLAIR: Well I think there’ll be a lot of heat. I think there’ll be a lot of passion. But from what I’m hearing at the moment I can’t see this vote against Nick Clegg being carried. I think the argument about changing the Leader so close to an election will win most people over. One LibDem said to me the other day if we were still two or three years away from the election, now would be a good time to change. But we are where we are. We knew coalition was going to be unpopular. We’ve just got to make it to the other end and hope it was worth it. And I think that’s what the majority of LibDems in Cambridge feel at the moment.
PAUL STAINTON: Andrew thank you for that.