Thursday, December 13, 2007


(Almost Past) Time To Decide

Next week there’ll be a new Liberal Democrat Leader. One candidate’s team says they have it in the bag; the other adopts the more traditional Lib Dem approach that it’s too close to call. My own tip to get the vote out is that a first class stamp may now be risky with the Christmas post, but that if you’re in London and really want to make sure, the ERS office in Clarendon Road is only a few minutes’ walk from Turnpike Lane (Piccadilly Line Tube). Er, not that I’ve ever delivered a ballot paper very near to the deadline. Perish the thought. But as a bonus, if you’re there just before midday on Saturday you might well run into Simon Hughes, as I once did at a similarly late stage.

The Unmissable Blogs

If you’re still wavering at the last minute – or if you’ve already voted and are agonising over whether you did the right thing – these are what for me are the must-read blog entries of the last few weeks of the Leadership contest. First, of course, is Andy Darley’s viciously barbed piece where he argues that one candidate may not be up to it while the other’s effective but a bastard: unmissable if you want to find out which is a “ripe peach” and which a “pirate submarine”. I feel quite a lot more enthusiastic about both than Andy does, but still agree with a lot of his analysis in a more ‘glass half-full’ way.

For arguments in favour of each candidate by incisive writers who thought long and hard before making their decisions, you can’t beat James Graham’s persuasive argument that while Chris has the right answers for now, Nick is asking the right questions for where we and the country need to be – unless it’s with Rob Fenwick’s mirror conclusion that Chris is ready to be Leader now, while Nick remains something of a blank canvas. Then, of course, there’s the lovely Andy Strange, with whom I got into an entertaining debate down the pub after the London Leadership Hustings when I told him I found his argument persuasive, but in diametrically the opposite way to that he meant.

There’s also my own piece from a few weeks ago on what a Leader’s for. Whether or not it’s any good, it still sums up much of what I feel about the contest (and thanks in particular to Alix and Jennie for being so nice about it!). I can still see advantages in each candidate that the other lacks, and drawbacks that the other doesn’t share: primarily that they’re Blake and Avon; vision versus vigour; that Nick’s more likely to be liked, while Chris is more likely to be heard. And both their slogans are still rubbish. Thankfully, the vitriol has calmed down enormously since I wrote about it – well done Linda, particularly, who’s now far more positive and far more persuasive, and I notice that some of the anonymous blogs clearly set up to attack Chris have dried up.

The Vince Problem

I will be happy with either of the potential victors on Monday, but whichever wins I desperately want the other’s talents in play too. I still hope that either will give the other a very top job – and, as I hope to justify in detail in a future article, I’ll commit heresy by saying that Saint Vince should stand aside as Deputy Leader and the MPs should vote it to the runner-up. Not that I think that’s likely, unfortunately. The success that Vince has had as acting Leader creates too problems. He’s probably unsackable, and is unlikely to want to give up either of his two top jobs – even though that’s one too many. The bigger but less controversial problem is again down to his strong performance.

Vince has ‘steadied the ship’, given us positive press coverage for the first time in ages, and raised party morale a bit at the gloomiest time for us for two decades. In the deadly terms of the media contest, unfortunately, that means that whoever comes next has to follow Vince the Success, while Vince only had to follow Ming the Failure. And it remains a fact that no Liberal Democrat Leader has ever seen a media honeymoon and opinion poll success immediately after their election. That the new guy’ll be called on to make an impression over Christmas – when there’s no opportunity to grandstand, and none of the public will be watching even if they try it – is probably giving each of them sleepless nights.

The best of luck to whoever wins. And if you haven’t yet voted, get down to the Post Box or, ideally, to the Tube. I won’t see you and Simon there on Saturday… But I confess I’ll be carrying two ballot papers to North London tomorrow morning!

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