U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg rejected calls to quit from some party activists and lawmakers after his Liberal Democrats narrowly avoided being wiped out in European Parliament elections yesterday.
Lawmaker John Pugh told the BBC that elections that left the party with a single seat in the European Parliament and also saw heavy local-council losses, were “abysmal.” He said that while the party should stay in the coalition government with the Conservatives, Business Secretary Vince Cable should replace Clegg as leader.
Speaking in a pooled television interview later, Clegg said he and his party must “finish the job” and stay in government until the May 2015 election. He said it would be a mistake to “lose our nerve” as the economy was beginning to improve.
“If I thought that anything would be really solved, any of our real dilemmas would be addressed by changing leadership, changing strategies, changing approaches, bailing out now, changing direction, then I wouldn’t hesitate,” Clegg said. “Just at the point when our big decisions, our big judgments are being vindicated, we’re not going to buckle.”
About 280 party activists released an open letter on the libdems4change website calling on Clegg to quit. Clegg’s party is the junior partner in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition.
Pugh was cited as telling the Sunday Times newspaper that a dozen of his colleagues in Parliament had expressed doubts over whether Clegg should continue. “The problem is the messenger, very few people say it’s the message,” the newspaper cited one lawmaker, Adrian Sanders, as saying.
Sandra Gidley, a Liberal Democrat lawmaker from 2000 to 2010, told the BBC’s “Today” program that “we need to change things at the top; I think that the Lib Dem brand is now toxic.” If Clegg doesn’t go, then the party is “toast” in next year’s elections, she said.
Clegg said he didn’t “begrudge any individual from raising searching questions.” He was backed by two possible candidates to succeed him, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron, who both called on the party to refrain from infighting.
Farron said Clegg should not face a challenge despite a “staggeringly disappointing” European result. He said the party “paid the price” for the decision to fight a strongly pro-European campaign and praised Clegg’s “backbone” for publicly debating U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, whose party won 23 European Parliament seats.
“Being unpopular is not the same as being out of touch,” Farron told Sky News. “We understand what the British people think and we understand that on this issue we’ve taken the unpopular side of an argument.”
Alexander said he doesn’t “think plunging the party into a period of introspection is the right answer.”
The party is reacting not only to last night’s European Parliament results, but also to the loss of 284 of its council members in local elections.