Last Thursday’s Queen’s Speech confirmed that the Liberal Democrats will stay in coalition until the general election. With, in particular, both Steve Webb and Vince Cable securing significant legislation that will take many months to pass through Parliament, pulling out of government ahead of the election would simply mean bizarrely and counter-productively abandoning Lib Dem legislation before it got to the statute book.
It would also mean abandoning the victory-by-omission – the blocking of any new immigration bill (or rather, anti-immigration bill) from the Conservatives.
But if the party is staying in government, that doesn’t mean all will stay the same. Largely unremarked, Nick Clegg has been somewhat of a gambler in government, trying risky gambits such as the tuition fees apology and the Farage debates. What gambles will he try next?
One is easy to predict. Though the Farage-Clegg debates in the European elections didn’t boost the Lib Dem polling figures, the UKIP wild card may yet help the Lib Dems win Parliamentary seats and, in any televised debates, having Farage there adding to attacks on the two main parties makes for a gamble that is worth taking.
Another is a possible reshuffling of staff structures, with the recent advertisement for a Liberal Democrat Director of Strategy likely to see Ryan Coetzee moving over from a public-funded post to a more party political role. Will other changes follow from this? Certainly some insiders want to see just that.
As for other possible gambles, there is one Clegg is yet to try: a radical reshuffle. It is the classic way to try to refresh a governing party, yet so far Clegg’s unforced reshuffles have been avoided many big shock moves on centre stage.
There has been only one unforced change in the Cabinet and that was in the least prominent of the Cabinet posts. Likewise in other ministerial ranks there has been a couple of surprising departures but little surprising in the promotions.
Indeed, overall the changes have been pretty modest given the number of Lib Dem ministers who (still) fail my rather simple, if a little self-centred test: ‘do they garner more or less press coverage than I do?’ Frankly if you’re a minister and aren’t week in, week out securing far more coverage than I get, you’re not really pulling your weight. And the party’s certainly not got room for the luxury of that failure. So will the summer reshuffle see another gamble from Clegg?