The battle to succeed Clegg and left-wing dissent over the party's role in the Coalition is reflected in this year's list of most influencial Liberal Democrats.
Establishment rebel: Lib Dem president comes in at number three.
Rebellion in the air: for how long will Nick Clegg remain Britain's most powerful Liberal Democrat?
Sticking power: Chris Huhne has been dogged be accusations over his driving - but keeps his top five slot.
If the opinion polls prove accurate - the last three showed the Liberal Democrats on 10% - this might be the last time we can find enough elected Liberal Democrats to form a viable top 50. The stark reality they face, and the internal debate that is now raging, is reflected in the top ten.
There is the whiff of succession planning in the air. The resilience of Chris Huhne is also hanging around – down just one place despite a difficult year in his personal life. Those in, or close, to the Clegg Operation (as Liberal Democrats a little self-consciously call it) remain powerful - his Chief of Staff stays at five. There have been recent changes reflected here, but the conflict between the government and the internal opposition has become much more of an equal one over the year.
As one MP put it, the year has been “about the rise of the left”. Confidence in the party outside Westminster has grown even as polling numbers remained minimal. Liberal Democrats seem to have discovered that even in government the world does not end if you disagree. And this has given rise to a new breed of rebel, personified in Tim Fallon, Lib Dem President and the leading establishment rebel (up 31 places to number three).
The Liberal Democrats have learnt a great deal about coalition politics this year. It is unclear sometimes which are the sanctioned and which the unsanctioned rebellions. If Nick Clegg is eyeing an eventual move to Brussels - to replace Baroness Ashton - then this is informing the positioning that is taking place now.
The experience of government has also lead to a rather different set of discussions this year. There was much more talk about the hidden wiring of the political game. Names like Ben Williams, a fixer from the Whips Office were discussed - and while he did not make the cut, James Gurling, who is modernising the party’s electoral machine, comes in at 46. Also in at 35 comes James McGrory, the leader’s favourite spin doctor. Described by some as a cockney thug he is not your typical Liberal Democrat, but he has also been described as the best press officer in the business. The highest new entry at 26 is also from the inside of the machine: Julian Astle comes in to the Clegg machine and into the heart of government as the newly minted Deputy Head of Number 10 Policy Unit.
The Liberal Democrats who hold Cabinet positions and can therefore, in theory, shape policy have had a mixed record this year. The sharpest debate surrounds Danny Alexander. He survives at number two because of his status as part of the mixed doubles Quad – Cameron and Clegg, Osborne and Alexander. But he has also been described as being dead in the party. Vince Cable, still hugely popular in the party, also slips down a little (three places to seven) and opinion is sharply divided on the extent to which he is a busted flush. Further down the food chain, junior ministers have struggled to make a mark and some have slipped back – for example Michael Moore but others have done obviously better, like Steve Webb, up two as Minister of State for Pensions. It depends on the extent to which they have delivered what is grandly referred as the Liberal Democratic Agenda in Government.
The discussion on Ministers vs the Party is reflected over and over again in this list. Does the party hate Danny Alexander because he is competent? Would they love him if he held the same post – they love to have Cabinet Ministers after all - but was utterly incompetent and ineffective in fulfilling his brief? One gets the impression that many of them would feel better, a little more like themselves, in these circumstances.
In the past when Liberals have formed coalition governments with the Conservatives, the ministers have tended to go native and be absorbed into the Conservative Party. Alexander matters while he holds office. The impression is that when the government ends so does his career in the Liberal Democrats. Any safe Tory seats going?
The big gainers, overall, have been from the left and it is here that the succession planning is really going on. Simon Hughes stays securely at sixth and Evan Harris is up 14 places to ten. Shirley Williams has campaigned across the board but especially on the NHS and is up 13 places to twelve. Brian Paddick pops in on the strength of the nomination to contest for Mayor of London and Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Greater London Assembly Liberals, squeaks in at 49 - one of a very few local government people to make it in on to the list. The party in the country, where it has clung on to power at local level, has had a quiet year.
Even though the left has made noise, the Liberal Democrats remain too fond of being in power to walk away from Clegg’s great gamble just yet. But the sound that we can hear this year from Liberal Democratic left, even up to the President of the Party, on the back benches and in the council groups that survive, is the sound of burying weapons for the battle of succession to come. The trouble is at 10% there might not be much left for Tim Fallon or A. N. Other, to inherit from the Cleggster.