The Liberal party was once a joke with six seats in Parliament. Their heirs, the Liberal ‘Democrats’ (heavy on the ‘liberal’ thing, but very light on the ‘democrat’ bit in view of their dishonourable withdrawal from their manifesto commitment on the EU Referendum) are still a joke, but have managed to acquire ten times that number of seats.

A significant part, therefore, of the Conservatives’ effort at getting back into power has to be directed at them.

Until recently, thanks to their having knowingly sustained a drunk as their prospective Prime Minister for some years before casually defenestrating him and replacing him with a rather pompous pensioner, the LibDems were doing some political bottom-feeding on the floor of the political pool. So they chucked the old boy out of the window as well in the hope of riding back to glory.

As we know the choice now is between Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne. It is said that of the two the Tories fear the former more than the latter on the grounds that he is the more ‘right-wing’ of the two and is thought to be rather more telegenic and appealing and thus might halt the drift of former Tories and LibDems off to support David Cameron. Clegg has been touted from time to time as a potential recruit to the Tories.

Of the proposition that he is close to the Tories I have yet to be persuaded. He has weighed into Cameron and the Tories of late accusing them of being fundamentally illiberal and his own programme for the LibDems hardly smacks of what one might think of as Liberal Conservatism. This may well be because LibDem activists and party members are in fact rather more left wing than many of its voters and it is to them that he is having to appeal, although it is right to say that Clegg has the larger number of MPs supporting him.

Huhne on the other hand is self-evidently a lefty. One can well see why the Tories would prefer him, not least because he appears to have a somewhat abrasive personality.

I am not sure it matters who wins. This is the first election since 1979 where there is a real prospect of the Tories ousting an incumbent Labour Government and it is not unreasonable to believe that many prospective LibDem voters will opt instead for the Tories in order to be rid of that incumbent. In that event the LibDems will suffer from the classic two-party squeeze and find themselves once more reduced to a rump as they were for much of the period after the Second World War until the days of the Liberal-SDP Alliance.

Indeed it may be argued that it was the more right-wing cast of the Thatcher-Major years combined with the leftwards lurch of Labour that allowed the Liberal revival of the last twenty years. With both of the former now returning to vie for the centrist vote it is possible that the third party is in for a lengthy period of decline.

If they continue to behave as Huhne and Clegg did on the BBC’s Politics show at the weekend, fighting like a brace of ferrets in a sack, then the public will be profoundly turned off and the drift away from the LibDems will continue: see here for the whole unedifying spectacle.

If I was to hazard a guess, I reckon Huhne might get it. He wants it more than Clegg and has more fight in him. Clegg struck me as a damp sponge and actually not much of a catch for the Tories if he did ever decide to rat. Either way, though, both are thought to be vulnerable at a General Election to a Tory revival. If both lost their seats, it would be a delicious irony after the LibDem’s boast that they would ‘decapitate’ the Tory party at the last election to see this unlovely party itself decapitated.

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