Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Decision time - who to back?

So, the time has come to me to make my mind up and tell the planet who I think should lead the Liberal Democrats. In fact, I made my mind up as soon as I knew who was standing, and anyone who knows me at all, has read my comments on other blogs, knows where I live, or is friends with me on Facebook will know exactly who I'm backing. But let me spin it out for a bit. If you're anything like me you'll need a bit of suspense in your life.

I think we all agree that Liberal Democrats are generally consistent regarding our core values. In fact, we and the Liberal Party and SDP before us been a great deal more consistent than both Labour and the Tories, although they will (and do) protest otherwise. It shouldn't be a surprise therefore that our two likely candidates have so much common ground between them. This will not be a sober battle of ideas or a titanic struggle for the soul of the party - ultimately, I suspect most members will be perfectly happy whichever of the two candidates ultimately wins.

However, that's not to say that there aren't ideas in play here, and important ones. As President of ALTER, Chris Huhne is one of the standard-bearers for land value tax, a policy of which I'm a big fan. I don't go nearly as far as those who say it's the only tax we need, and I'm skeptical of a lot of the currency reform ideas that also tend to be espoused by members of ALTER, but this factor ought to be a draw. Huhne's clever packaging of these principles into the "Green Tax Switch" has also impressed me, as has his ambition - both for himself and for the party.

But despite all that, I have to confess the truth - I am an unabashed Clegg fan. I have to declare some interests here: Nick is my local MP, his constituency office is about 100 yards from my front door, and his was the first campaign I ever worked on. But on top of those admittedly rather facile factors, there are plenty of serious reasons why I think he should lead our party.

In Nick I see an outspoken leader who can not only reach out to ordinary people and grasp their worries about modern life, but also communicate to them what we all firmly believe - that liberalism has the answers.

Nick is a citizen of Britain first and Westminster second. He is a politician who genuinely wants get power to give it away, and above all he is an inspirational leader while remaining a genuine human being.

His appeal to the electorate should be obvious. One of his backers (I heard it was Jeremy Browne) memorably referred to him as the "Carlsberg candidate" - able to reach parts of the country that others can't reach.

Keeping with that theme, I'd also rate him as the candidate most likely to sew up the John Smith's vote - he is firmly in the "no nonsense politics" camp. A team of researchers at Manchester University gave Clegg the dubious-sounding honour of being one of the "least evasive" politicians they had studied - what they meant was that he ducked only 1 in 10 direct questions aimed at him.

Still, it is nice to have the benefit of knowing one of our leadership contenders personally, and I'm pleased to be able to report that Nick is a pleasure to know and a genuine people person. He is decidedly chatty and surprisingly funny. A friend remembers the Clegg and Allan double act regaling the crowd with a series of Bremner, Bird and Fortune sketches at a local folk festival. Richard has stuck with him to the extent that he is part of his campiaign team as we speak.

Nick is also surprisingly humble and has a talent for self-deprecating humour. I recall a story he told us during his 2005 election campaign where it slowly dawned on him that people on the campaign trail were in fact smiling and waving at outgoing Hallam MP Richard Allan and not at the grinning candidate standing beside him - the anecdote was later recycled and used in his maiden speech.

He has even offered to deliver some of my leaflets in the Council elections next year. If he becomes leader I think I will waive that obligation as I accept he will have more important things to do...


BTW, it's Heineken...:) And Nick himself certainly used the phrase in his Newbury speech.


Well I suppose if the worst thing that happens to me today is I find out I know nothing about lager... ;-)

Btw, Jock - I suppose I should mention I wouldn't know anything at all about LVT if it wasn't for you.

So keep up the good work!


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