Though the office of deputy prime minister is relatively new in British politics, and though there have been stretches since 1945 when British governments haven’t even featured a deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg risks becoming the first sitting deputy prime minister to lose his constituency in the United Kingdom’s general election on Thursday.
Throughout the campaign, Clegg has struggled to take a clear polling lead in Sheffield Hallam in south Yorkshire. His party, the Liberal Democrats, are predicted to lose up to half of their 56 seats in the House of Commons, and Clegg’s surprisingly tough race means that his future as an MP is just as fragile as his future as the leader of the Liberal Democrats, which joined a formal coalition with the Conservatives following the May 2010 general election. In that campaign, Clegg stole the spotlight in the country’s televised leader’s debates against both current prime minister David Cameron and then-prime minister Gordon Brown.
This time around, Clegg has been forced into an awkward mix of defending his record in government while attacking Cameron’s Tories for going too far in cutting social services in the party’s zeal to reduce the country’s budget deficit. Clegg’s popularity collapsed early in the coalition, when he not only agreed to budget cuts in the midst of a recession, but particularly after he consented to an increase in tuition fees from around $3,000 to around $9,000, backtracking on what had been a key LibDem pledge in the 2010 election. A groveling apology to LibDem voters only made things worse for Clegg.
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A Lord Ashcroft poll released April 29 showed Clegg losing to Labour’s Oliver Coppard by a 1% margin. A Guardian/ICM poll released May 4, however, indicates that Tory voters are voting tactically for Clegg in a bid to retain his seat. The Liberal Democrats have historically been somewhat left of center, most importantly opposing British participation in the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in the 2000s and creeping civil liberties abuses by Labour. Clegg, with a market-friendly, traditional economically liberal perspective, is still seen as the most likely LibDem leader to bring his party into another coalition with the Conservatives after May 7.
In contrast, if Clegg loses his seat and the party is forced to choose a new leader quickly, the favorite would be the secretary of state for business, Vincent Cable, whose views on economic policy lie much closer to Labour’s than to the Conservatives.
Even as Clegg signals that Cameron’s promise of a 2017 referendum on British membership in the European Union need not be a deal-breaker for a coalition, he’s said that his party could partner with either major party, adding ‘a heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one.’ Continue reading Clegg could lose both his leadership and seat in UK election