After initially making positive sounds about David Cameron’s veto at the EU summit, Deputy Leader Nick Clegg has reversed himself and gone all in for European integration. He sees the UK’s future and the continent’s as fundamentally linked, and it at least once sense he is certainly right: The outcome of the EuroMess will likely determine which party becomes the “third way” in British politics.
In opinion polls and at the ballot box, the LibDems have been suffering almost since the day they joined the governing coalition. Their leader has now publicly and dramatically nailed the party colors to the European mast. Meanwhile, polls show that the proportion of UK voters who support the LibDems is similar to the proportions endorsing two other parties, the Greens and the fiercely Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP).
If Europe somehow resolves the EuroMess and creates a new economic zone that disadvantages British interests, Clegg will look like a prophet ignored. That could go a long way toward redeeming his party with its base, thereby maintaining the LibDems as the main alternative to the duopoly of Labour and Tory.
However, if Europe goes down the drain Cameron will rise in the voters’ esteem and most of the remaining LibDem supporters will head for the exits, opening the door for the Greens or UKIP to become the third party of the UK.
UKIP proponents think 2015 will be their year. But they are probably wrong. Now that Cameron has drawn his line in the sand, a European meltdown might just as easily draw UKIP voters back into the Tory party than the reverse. Having largely stayed out of this particular fray, the Greens seem more likely to come to the fore if the Eurozone sinks under the waves and takes the LibDems with it.