A straight choice between Clegg & Huhne?

That’s what it’s looking like with the news that Steve Webb will not be entering the contest to become the next leader of the Liberal Democrats, but instead backing Nick Clegg. (Although John Hemming has also declared, currently it looks unlikely he will reach the required seven nominations by MPs.)

From what I understand, the following MPs have definitely declared for Chris Huhne, who launched his leadership bid yesterday: Lynne Featherstone, Tom Brake, Sandra Gidley, Martin Horwood and David Howarth (and also Lord Oakeshott).

Nick Clegg, who will officially declare tomorrow, is backed by Steve, Ed Davey and Sarah Teather, as well as by Lord Ashdown (and doubtless others, these are just the ones I’ve read about).

It would, of course, be wrong for any of our MPs to stand if they did not actually want to do the job. Nonetheless, I suspect a lot of members (and I’m one of them) will be disappointed that the contest looks, as it stands, like it will be a two-horse race.

The Parliamentary party has a highly talented front-bench, with qualified female and male candidates representing the broad range of liberal values which underpin our party.

This was our opportunity to show the breadth as well as the depth that the Liberal Democrats have to offer the country. It was also the chance for some of our MPs to prove their mettle, either putting down a marker for the future, or making their bid for a senior role in the next Lib Dem shadow cabinet. It’s a shame that it seems no one else is yet prepared to grasp the nettle.

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62 Comments

  • I’m a party member and a two horse race seems fine to me.

    If someone can sit on Hemming and take his ridiculous proposal to stand away, it would make a lot of people much happier!

  • Hywel Morgan 18th Oct '07 - 10:07am

    “If someone can sit on Hemming and take his ridiculous proposal to stand away, it would make a lot of people much happier!”

    Not sure anyone has been able to stop John doing something he’s decided to do. One of the things I like about him even if he does engage in full on windmill tilting at times. It’s a good thing the Parliamentary Party is big enough to have some mavericks.

  • “It’s a shame that it seems no one else is yet prepared to grasp the nettle.”

    Sad indeed. But might it be the case that only the toughest and most determined is prepared to subject themselves to the daily barrage of abuse and vilification that the media dumped on Ming Campbell?

    The defining characteristic of the party in its recent past has been our opposition to the war in Iraq. We defied the media, the neocons, Bush and Cheney, almost the entire political and economic establishment to do what we knew was right.

    For those who say all political parties are the same, are all things to all men, and exist only to protect elites, we can riposte that the Liberal Democrats are not like that – we opposed the war in Iraq.

    I hope our reputation as a courageous party of principle will not be lost in the current Gadarene rush to grovel to the media.

    PS: Mark Oaten has also come out in favour of Nick Clegg.

  • Out of Focus 18th Oct '07 - 10:25am

    It’s a two horse race – only Nick Clegg can win here!

  • Hywel Morgan 18th Oct '07 - 10:27am

    “PS: Mark Oaten has also come out in favour of Nick Clegg.”

    I think they were probably trying to keep that one quiet though!

  • Its quite clear, and it has been for some time, that Chris and Nick are without doubt the most capable and able leaders in waiting we have. A straight fight between the two of them is what is needed – another candidate will be caught napping quite frankly.

    Hemming’s “candidacy” in 2005 was mildly amusing, this time it is just annoying – go away John.

  • Mark Oaten supports Clegg, see here:

    “Fellow Liberal Democrat Mark Oaten mirrored Mrs Gidley’s words of praise but said he would back the party’s home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg in the event of a leadership battle.”

    (Not sure if it’s a good thing for Clegg, though.)

  • BTW, could the title b seen as homophobic? Simon Hughes has been accused of homophobic campaigning because he used that expression in the Bermondsey by-elections.

  • Hywel Morgan 18th Oct '07 - 11:44am

    “Anyone think the Labour Deputy Leadership race made them look good?”

    It’s pretty much unquestionable that running enhanced John Cruddas’ standing and contributed to putting the issue of housing supply much more front & centre in Labour priorities.

  • Just to put the cat amongst the pigeons – how about a bring back Charles campaign?

  • Given that its looking increasingly unlikely that a woman will enter the race, I think at the very least we should ensure that we have a female Deputy Leader candidate, and more women in high profile positions.
    The other main parties have sussed out that 52% of the electorate are women.

  • The result of the 1999 leadership election reflected almost exactly the extent to which the various candidates were known to members.

    So Malcolm Bruce, who had hardly any endorsements, actually did better than Jackie Ballard, who had many (including much of the party’s municipal left).

    2005 broke that trend. Simon Hughes should have come second. He was better known than Chris Huhne, and actually had more endorsements than either Ming or Chris. The only explanation that comes to mind is Simon’s maladroit handling of the impertinent media questions about his sexual orientation.

    The media has already decided the outcome of the present contest, ofcourse. But past performance does not necessarily indicate that they are right. Nick Clegg is a blank face even to me, while Chris Huhne made himself a household name (to members at least) by standing in 2005.

  • Elizabeth Patterson 18th Oct '07 - 12:17pm

    I was sorry to read Paddy’s article in the Guardian, using his elder statesman role to endorse NC before he has even declared himself a candidate!
    And with no reference to the one declared candidate. What a dreadful snub to CH.
    And put in typically eloquent and impetuous, extravagant Paddy language, ie Clegg is essential to party survival!
    Fortunately as an old party member I can recall similar mistakes in Paddy’s judgement.

    There was of course the misjudgement of the Blair relationship, but I also remember times at conference when Paddy would appear on the platform to try to swing the vote. On THE NAME, he joined the platform to hold up his card for “Democrats”, but this was turned down. He also tried to swing a drugs debate because he feared what the tabloids would say if we took a progressive line; instead he personally was panned by the tabloids for wanting to stifle debate .
    I was totally devoted to Paddy while he was leader but I deplore the unfairness of him trying to swing the vote again.
    It is supposed to be one member one vote, not one ex-leader, many votes.
    Elizabeth

  • I saw Diana Wallis MEP on YTV also come out for Nick Clegg.

  • “ie Clegg is essential to party survival!”

    I haven’t seen the Grauniad this morning, so have denied myself the pleasure of Lord Ashdown telling me how to exercise my vote.

    The above quote (if real) is hyperbolic tosh of the most egregious kind, and frankly insults members’ intelligence.

    No one man is essential to the party’s survival – except perhaps Chris Rennard. How Nick Clegg falls into this exalted category eludes me entirely.

    Paddy Ashdown these days talks and acts like a paid-up neocon. What are Nicks’s views on US foreign policy, may I be forward enough to ask? I think he should tell us as a matter of urgency – strapped to a polygraph.

  • I doubt that Julia Goldsworthy will change her mind. According to The Independent Clegg “was collecting a string of influential backers yesterday, including Sir Menzies’ chief of staff Ed Davey, David Laws, the schools spokesman, Norman Lamb, the health spokesman, Alistair Carmichael and Julia Goldsworthy. Phil Willis, the former education spokesman, was also said to be backing Mr Clegg.”

  • Peter Bancroft 18th Oct '07 - 1:06pm

    I don’t think that many could credibly suggest that someone other than Chris or Nick could win this race. I’d also suggest that the vast majority of the party would pick one or the other as our best potential leader – they’ve been pretty obviously far ahead of the rest of our other front bench talent for some time now.

    So I’d agree with Andy – I know it’s Lib Dem tradition to want a wider range of candidates and to want someone with two X chromasomes, but really this is about picking our future leader and it makes sense that only people who have a shot at it stand.

    Webb could have been an exception as it’s vaguely possible that he could have somehow captured the imagination of the party, but for reasons known to himself he’s ruled himself out. I think the issues that he raised could have been interesting, but hopefully now we’re not going to face the tedious “I’m more left-wing than you are” nonsense that we sometimes let the media push us into.

    We know that Nick and Clegg aren’t miles apart politically, so it’s going to be good to use the next 2 months for the membership to really get to see their abilities in communicating their messages and indeed to understand their different visions for what the party should be.

  • Cheltenham Robin 18th Oct '07 - 1:28pm

    31) “We know that Nick and Clegg aren’t miles apart politically”

    Well spotted Peter

  • 22 Stephen, I think your expansion of the argument invalidates your original thesis at 14.

  • Ruth Bright 18th Oct '07 - 2:02pm

    Meral – quite right about remembering the 52%. The irony is that the very day he fell on his sword Ming was going to propose action on a report which highlights the need for us to support female candidates with young children.

    Andy – as the self-styled Southwark/Sarf London blogger I would have expected you to know a bit more about Simon’s leadership bid last time. He was clearly seen as a front-runner at the beginning. Lots of key people endorsed him including Steve Webb.

  • dreamingspire 18th Oct '07 - 2:04pm

    As an outside (supporter, not party member), in their current areas of responsibility I have read some good stuff from Chris Huhne but not so from Nick. So I echo ‘Is he actually a leader?’

  • If my memory serves me right, Steve, we were half expecting a Campbell coronation, and were unsure if Simon was going to put himself forward.

    Chris made a late decision, and won much support because he was so forthright and specific about policy – and demonstrated rather more oomph than the other candidates.

    I don’t think anyone expected Simon to win – though I was, personally, rather surprised that he came third.

  • Stephen, you said “But Andy – the same thing would have been said at this stage of the last campaign about Ming and Simon.”

    But your post at 22 says that

    “in the period after Ming’s PMQs’ slip-up, and before his press outing, Simon was pretty much the favourite. It was his handling of The Sun’s outing of his bisexuality which pretty much torpedoed his campaign”

    Thus you accept that Simon´s campaign did “implode”. The implosion of one campaign was enough for Chris to come second, but not to leapfrog Ming. So I don´t really see where you are disagreeing with Andy at 14.

    Personally I think Steve might just have come second even without a major implosion of one of the other campaigns. He could have done it by being stronger in the hustings (but it would need to be televised).

  • David Morton 18th Oct '07 - 3:11pm

    Ok. so we have another public execution of a leader in order to have the exciting choice of (a) last times runner up (b) the guy who couldn’t be bothered to stand last time.

    If only I had the web skills to launch a “Draft Julia” site or must we resort to a “bring back charlie” campaign?

  • 40 We´ll discuss it over a pint sometime (mine, as you never drink).

  • Martin Land 18th Oct '07 - 4:56pm

    I just find the whole thing so depressing. We should be having a debate about the future of the party with at least 4 or 5 candidates pitching in and giving us ideas; different viewpoints. People like Steve Webb, Susan Kramer, perhaps even Charles Kennedy. What have we got? Two Cameron Clones, with interchangeable careers, who even went to the same school. What choice, what joy!

  • Ruth Bright 18th Oct '07 - 5:00pm

    YouGov poll in Sunday Times 12/02/06 had Simon on 34%, Ming on 21% and Huhne on 13%.

  • Dave Hennigan 18th Oct '07 - 5:11pm
  • bill haymes 18th Oct '07 - 5:48pm

    The media largely destroyed Ming and is already laying out the perameters of the coming contest.COME ON WAKE UP its not about the economy stupid, its about telegenics.

    In my view without a radical departure from what the media expects and wants, the squeeze will continue, millions will be left disenfranchised and the WHOLE party will eventually implode.
    Certainly this is an opportunity which progressive liberalism cannot afford to lose or let itself be bullied ….this is the defining time of Liberal Democracy for a generation …. let us not allow the media define it for us…hasnt it done enough damage already?????

  • Paul Harrod 18th Oct '07 - 9:12pm

    I think it is easy to forget that in a ‘snap’ leadership election there is very little time for anyone, other than the obvious front-runners, to build a campaign infrastructure. For example each candidate can spend up to £50 000 during the campaign. That is a lot of money to raise from a standing start. I suspect a lot of our front benchers would have been put off by that fact more than whether they could raise seven MP nominations.

  • Mindstar at 52 – I couldn’t agree more about Steve Webb. How can we persuade him to reconsider? If it is indeed money as suggested, I am sure radical Lib Dems could dip into their pockets to ensure a campaign.

  • I’m really upset that it seems the leadership contest has already been stitched up. I wonder what Webb’s price for not standing was? Clegg will be delighted.

  • Ruth & Jo, seems its always down to the few women who blog on this site to point out the obvious!
    I really don’t want to hear the tired arguments about tokenist women anymore! No-one’s ever suggested that.
    Stands to reason, the fewer women entering Parliament, the smaller the pool from which a potential leadership candidate can emerge.
    I agree about Julia, though I don’t know a lot about her. I think she’s certainly tipped as a future leader, with more experience under her belt. She should certainly be ensured a higher profile.

  • Peter Dunphy 20th Oct '07 - 3:59pm

    I think we have seen the early stages of an STV election having taken place before the votes are cast with candidates that were always going to struggle against the leaders throwing their weight behind the top 2. OK maybe the members should have been involved in this process but personally I am cool with this as the good/bad publicity externally we can gain during the selection is probably at least important as the internal party debate. Clegg and Huhne are both respected heavyweight characters and it will be difficult for the press to have the kind of feeding frenzy of last time. The Ballard/Rendel/Oaten type of candidacy, with no hope of victory, only adds an illusion of choice, whilst doing nothing for overall party image and very little for the career prospects of the candidates themselves. Re: Julia’s backing of Clegg – a shrewd judgement I would say and puts her in a strong position to be (an excellent) first Lib or LD female leader – next time.

  • I am in the unusual position that I was a pupil at the same school as both Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne, and would thus be almost equally pleased if either was elected Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party.
    What is worth stressing is that although Westminster School is no doubt a school for “posh” boys, whatever that may mean, its Central London location and its mixed intake of boarders and day pupils has historically made its old pupils rather more streetwise and in tune with the currents of contemporary political thought than the old pupils of such rural seminaries as Eton and Winchester.
    It is no accident that over the last half century former Westminster pupils have sat in Labour cabinets (Tony Benn, Ruth Kelly) as well as in Conservative cabinets (Robert Carr, Nicholas Edwards, Nigel Lawson, Lord Havers), and that two other former Westminster pupils (Lords Rea and Byers) led the Liberal Party in the House of Lords consecutively between 1955 and 1984.

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