Will Clegg suffer a Portillo moment?

In 1997 Michael Portillo lost his seemingly safe of Enfield Southgate to Labour. Labour were widely expected to win the 1997 General Election but no one believed they would be competitive in seats such as Portillo’s. The moment has gone down in political folklore for two reasons. Firstly, because of its subsequent impact as Portillo was widely expected to become the Conservative leader after the election and secondly, because of how big a political scalp Portillo was. If current polling is to be believed deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg could be about to suffer the same fate.

In 2010, riding on the back of the televised debates Nick Clegg won over 50% of the vote and had a majority of 15,000. Since he has entered government Clegg’s popularity and that of the Liberal Democrats has fallen through the floor. Clegg’s seat of Sheffield Hallam has a high proportion of students who are angry with Clegg for breaking his promise on tuition fees and are eager to punish him. Even with the existing large majority his seat could be under threat.

Two recent polls have suggested that Clegg is currently behind and could lose his seat in 2015. One poll carried out by Survation and Unite has Clegg ten points behind and another poll carried out by Lord Ashcroft has Clegg three points behind. The usual pinch of salt must be taken with polls, but it does appear Clegg is in for a real battle.

Labour believe their best chance of forming a coalition with the Lib Dems is if Clegg is removed and a new leader is elected and therefore are quite open about how they are targeting the Sheffield Hallam seat. Clegg however is believed to favour a deal with the Tories rather than with Labour but without a seat he would be relegated to the position of interested onlooker.

Clegg still has that large majority and could yet receive the backing of tactical Conservative voting to stop Labour. However there is a real chance he could lose his seat and no doubt much of the media will be eagerly awaiting another Portillo moment. It was always going to be unlikely Clegg could carry on as leader after this election, but a poor result could be the final nail in his coffin. This is certainly one result to look out for on election night.

Article by Mike Hough

Photograph – Liberal Democrat website

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