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Nick Clegg needs to balance his handling of Eastleigh and the Lord Rennard allegations

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat Party Leader Nick Clegg Photo: Chris Ison/PA Wire

It is hard at this stage in the crisis surrounding the allegations against Lord Rennard (heavily denied, let us say at the start) to come to any definitive conclusions, but here, in no particular order, are some thoughts;

1) Not many people at Westminster are impressed with Nick Clegg's handling of the issue. He has come across as tetchy, even petulant, and that is not helping anyone, least of all him.

2) Nobody thinks that Nick is instinctively the kind of guy who would defend a 'boy's club', but that does not necessarily mean he has handled the issue well.

3) We are not even close to satisfactory answers yet for the more troubling questions. We know that a number of women made complaints to people in the party hierarchy. We do not have the faintest idea why they did not result in more concrete action.

4) Okay, the allegations are not in the Jimmy Savile category, or even close to it, but they still involve the claim that a senior official abused his power and made women feel extremely uncomfortable, or much worse. That is on any analysis a serious matter, especially in a party that is in a position of national leadership.

5) It is at least possible that this could contribute to a putsch against Nick at some point in the next twelve months and if he does not know that, he really does not have his ear to the ground.

Lord Rennard speaks to media in 2006 Credit: Cathal McNaughton/PA Wire

6) His situation is, of course, going to be made worse if the Lib Dems lose Eastleigh, though at least he will now have an excuse. David Cameron, by contrast, is going to have an awful lot of explaining to do if the Tories lose, since it will suggest the chances of his party achieving a majority at the next election (which rest heavily on a slew of Lib Dems seats falling its way) are remote in the extreme. Having said that…

7) The polling suggests that national events appear to be having little effect in Eastleigh and that voters here are concentrating on finding the best 'local candidate'. There are a number of potential explanations for this, the most likely being that people are sick of national politicians, think they are all as bad as each other and are somewhat confused as to whether there is any real alternative in terms of economic policy (I suspect most veteran Westminster watchers would argue there is not). This 'localism' is in itself interesting because…

Nick Clegg with Mike Thornton, the party's prospective parliamentary candidate during the Eastleigh by-election Credit: Chris Ison/PA Wire

8) It suggests that it is possible incumbency may turn out to be a uniquely critical factor in the next election. If many people are unsure as to what to make of national politicians and their arguments and see no compelling reason to make a change, they might well decide to stick with their own local man or woman, which would have the effect of leaving the coalition in place. You can not vote for the government as constructed, it is true, but you can vote for the status quo locally, which may turn out to be the same thing. If Nick Clegg does win Eastleigh, it will be a boost to him personally and may suggest there is something in this theory. One to watch, at least.

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