The announcement by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, earlier this week of a package of reforms to hold company directors to account for their remuneration policies has undermined those who argue that he was a great opposition politician but one unsuited to the challenges of running a government department.
These reforms – very well explained by Robert Peston – have proved resiliant to criticism from those who wanted tough action and those who feared tough action. They are balanced, reasonable and, most importantly, workable. They will find their way onto the statute book unless the unthinkable happens and the Coalition unravels in the next 12 months. Strangely, Mr Cable's success in handling this issue – coupled with his rehabilitation over his handling of News International's bid for BSkyB – actually shorten the odds that the Coalition might not make it through to 2015.
There is a growing unease among senior Liberal Democrats over the party's steady erosion of support, measured both in terms of votes and members. Much of the blame for this is being laid at Nick Clegg's door with the U-turn over tuition fees and the mishandling of the AV referrendum appearing prominantly at the top of the charge sheet. Amid this unease is an assumption that it will be impossible for Mr Clegg to lead the Liberal Democrats into the next General Election. This has started to move the debate forward from one of whether Clegg will be leader to one about who should replace him, when and how. Vince Cable is now seen as the only serious answer to the first part of that question.
That leaves the when and how. There are plenty of issues bubbling just below the surface where it is possible that Clegg will feel he has to be more Deputy Prime Minister than Leader of the Liberal Democrats, allowing his critics to outflank him and destabilise his leadership. Clegg is astute enough to realise this and that is a large part of the explanation for his more frequent criticisms of policies put forward by Tory ministers and the recent abstention in the vote over Jeremy Hunt's role in the BSkyB bid. The trouble is this risks enraging the Tory backbenches who might persaude David Cameron that they would be better off governing as a minority party for the last year or so of their term, forcing the Lib Dems out of government.
The prospects of the Coalition breaking up before the end of 2014 are quite slim but it is not impossible to imagine it coming to pass. Far more likely is a change in the Liberal Democrat leadership, maybe even as early as this autumn.
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