I can claim to have encouraged Chris Huhne to stand for the leadership when Charles Kennedy stepped down, while simultaneously believing and saying for some time that Nick Clegg will be/should be the next party leader.
I can also claim to have opposed both of them over the anodyne and partly mistaken views of the Huhne Commission – remember when PFI was thought to be a good idea?
In backing Nick I have had my credentials as a definitely left-of-centre Liberal questioned by a few parliamentary and non-parliamentary colleagues – along the lines of, “Dont you realise he is a Trojan horse for Orange Book/Centre Forum takeover.” And it is that conspiracy theorist paranoia that has fuelled the ‘Calamity Clegg’ piece.
I console myself not only with the recognition that the party, not the party leader, decides policy, but also in the knowledge that Nick as a good Liberal will stand an argument. The balance of argument is tipping very decisively against the further marketisation of public services, and it is the very strength of those arguments which will over-power those very few hell-bent on making the party a Tory clone.
There is a battle of ideas ahead, but it is only those on both sides unsure of their argument and wedded to conspiracy who need fear a rational, intelligent, receptive leader. Never fear Trojan horses bearing the right gifts.
* John Pugh is Lib Dem MP for Southport.