In purely mathematical terms, it could have been worse. But not by much. The voters' ongoing desire to give the Liberal Democrats a pummelling for giving them what they voted for saw us losing another swathe of councillors and all but one of our Members of the European Parliament.
Unsurprisingly, there have been calls for Cap'n Clegg to step down, many from friends.
And, despite suspicious leaks from "usual suspects" in the Grauniad (who are NOT our friends), most of them have principled reasons for wanting him to go.
But I disagree with them. I still agree with Nick. And here's why:
Firstly, Cap'n Clegg is a Liberal.
The idea that he's a pseudo-Tory is absurd. In fact, he's one of those soggy, left-wing, interventionist Liberals – you can tell can he believes in the power of the State to make things better from the way he always, but always, puts education first: pupil premium, more apprenticeships, free school meals.
Could he be a BETTER Liberal? Who couldn't? He thinks first of the State as an agent of change for good, before remembering that it can be abused which is why he occasionally fumbles the pass on civil liberties issues (though to be fair, once he sits down and thinks about it, he comes to the right answer). He's against the establishment, but it's not his first instinct to tear it down. His first thought is usually how can we HELP people, rather than how can we got out of people's way.
Secondly, Cap'n Clegg is actually saying Liberal things.
The "Party of In" campaign was the right thing to do, it was the Party being unashamed of the policies and positions we are trying to sell. The debate around more draconian penalties for knife possession – not even knife CRIME – was a needed standing up to of the Home Office, while Labour and Tories continue to try and outflank each other to the right. Free School Meals – a policy based on EVIDENCE, supported by TRIALS – is absolutely the right sort of thing we should be doing. The economics of the Coalition – shifting tax away from the incomes of lower earners and onto wealth and green taxes is entirely Liberal.
Thirdly, he's by far the best we've got at communicating Liberal things.
Town Hall meetings, Call Clegg on LBS, TV debates: Cap'n Clegg is really very good at delivering the message. The case against him is that no one is listening. I would dispute that. No one who writes for the Grauniad is listening; no one who writes for the Tell-lies-o-graph is listening. But Pollyanna Toytown and Dan Hannan sticking their fingers in their ears going "lalalala" does not mean that everyone else is deaf to our appeal. But equally, it doesn't seem likely that they'll suddenly start giving a fair hearing to any other Liberal Democrat. We have always had to struggle to get our message past the gatekeepers of the meeja. I'd rather have someone who's good at doing that still on board.
Fourthly, the Coalition's policies look like they might just be starting to work.
There are signs that we are turning the economy around, benefiting people at last. Do we really want to derail that by letting the Tories take charge while we go into a tailspin? Which is more important: serving the public trust or serving the Party's re-election? Yes, I realise we will need to get re-elected to keep on serving the public, but we must never fall into the trap that Hard Labour has: existing ONLY to get themselves elected.
One of the few good things the press pack are willing to say about us is that we've held it together in the face of, well, them being pretty beastly to us. I'm sure our opponents would love it if we tossed that aside. ("Oh they betray everyone, and then themselves too in the end", they would say. You know they would.)
Fifthly, he does actually listen.
Nick's office is far more open and accessible to the membership than previous leaders (excepting, possibly, Paddy pre-Blair-love-in-bunker phase; don't worry, he got over it). Telephone conferences, video interviews, question and answer sessions at conference, interviews with bloggers… he's been very much more open to interacting with and responding to the members. I was part of the phone call that turned Party policy around on internet snooping. Did they get it wrong? Yes. Did they put it right? Absolutely.
But if – as the complaints go – the leader's office / Party headquarters are supposed to be "disconnected" and "not listening", why hasn't that been fixed? It takes two to tango. We've had two rounds of Federal Executive elections now where a slate of candidates promised to mend that relationship. So if it's still wrong, why haven't they? No one is saying the FE should be considering their own positions for their share of this supposed failure; but equally no one ON the FE is in any position to be calling for Nick to go either. (We've failed so he should go! Not very edifying, is it?)
I try to avoid the negativity of a small group of people commenting intemperately on Lib Dem Voice – or rather accusing anyone who voices disagreement with them, including Auntie Caron of all people, of being part of an "Orange Booker" conspiracy! – who leave the campaign to replace Nick appearing sadly tainted.
So I've stayed away from the purely pragmatic reasons for not dropping the leader at this stage. You know what they are: the timing isn't good; it damaged the "brand" when we dropped Charles (arguably that act cost us seats in 2010; not Cleggy's leadership); it did so again when Ming stepped down; there's no evidence that anyone else would get any fairer hearing than Nick does; why if you believe we're going down to inevitable defeat next year (which I don't), make someone else carry the can. Most importantly, why should we ditch the leader who took us into government on the say so of, frankly, a conspiracy in the pages of the Grauniad? (Reminder: they are NOT our friends!)
We DO need greater coherence – and a great deal more what is technically called… oomph! – to our message; we need to talk louder about tearing down the system that has herded people into voting UKIP; we need to earn back a reputation for fairness and honesty.
I don't see how stabbing Cap'n Clegg in the back helps with any of that.
We lose a lot by getting rid of him; we gain more by keeping him.
I think he should stay.