Wednesday, February 08, 2006


I Wouldn’t Start From Here

Surely what the bulk of Lib Dem members and supporters are thinking about the Leadership, along with ‘For goodness’ sake, why are they all being so beastly to each other?’ I’m at least reasonably familiar with each of the candidates, but I’m still unpersuaded – not least because despite their numerous advantages, none of them seem to hold a candle to Charles. So I’ve been working on some questions I’d like to see answered, and what each of them could do or say that might win my vote. I’ve no doubt each could be impressive, and I know that after preferring other candidates to Charles last time that I ended up not just pleasantly surprised by him but firmly convinced. So, let’s hope my worries about these three turn out just as wrong, and that the large numbers of people whose instincts I trust who are backing each of them turn out to be right.

In 1999, the two things that most made me concerned about Charles were that he seemed to be the candidate most likely to do deals with New Labour, and that despite having listened to many of his speeches, I had no idea what he stood for. Instead, he swiftly pulled the plug on the constitutional committee when it was plain Labour had no interest in listening to anyone else, and led the party in a plainly and outspokenly Liberal direction. I don't think we was a perfect leader; he often chose the wrong people, but I was very happy with his political instincts, both in public and in debates on the party Policy Committee. For exactly the reasons I warmed to Charles, many of his initial backers from the more conservative wing of the party never forgave him for turning out differently than they expected, and I’ve no doubt that had as much to do with the almost non-stop briefings against Charles in the last seven years as his drinking did. I still feel disgusted with the way our MPs behaved over Christmas, not least because so many of them running round in naked panic trying to crash the plane at the thought of a few weeks of good Tory publicity doesn’t bode well for their own leadership qualities. But that’s by-the-by.

Charles’ most appealing quality for me in 1999 was that he could appeal to people as something other than an ‘ordinary politician’; for a party that relies so much more on an anti-establishment appeal, that’s crucial. Back then, I backed Jackie Ballard, the only other candidate that I thought came across as similarly down-to-earth; today I worry that none of the three on offer have got it. Yes, Simon has anti-establishment instincts, but stick him on the telly and his manner is very much of ‘typical politician’. The only one who doesn’t come across as ‘typical’ is Ming, and that’s because he’s so grand he’s ‘super-establishment’; reassuring to grannies as the sort of Prime Minister their grandfathers might have voted for, and that’s a useful attribute, but hardly going to invigorate the youth vote.

It’s easy to knock each of the candidates and their supporters, and I notice that each camp is laying into the other with gusto. Well, I’m going to try and set out what I think are the strengths and weaknesses of each, and how each might strengthen their appeal to me. At this stage, I could easily vote for any of them (and I was never going to vote for Mark, though I’m sad at what happened to him). So it’s up to them and their supporters to persuade me and people like me. I’ve already heard more than enough along the lines that ‘Scary’ is only backed by the establishment and Young Turks who want to be leader in five years’ time; that ‘Flaky’ is only backed by ‘lefties’ and Christians; and that ‘Who?’ is only backed by Young Turks who don’t want to be leader in five years’ time.

Tip: slinging mud at another candidate is a big turn-off for me.

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