Friday, November 16, 2007

So, should I be backing Huhne?

Having arrived home post 1am this morning I have only just had an opportunity to read the reaction to QT last night. And having now watched it myself I have a number of observations of my own. I have to say I was a bit disappointed that we didn't really get to the heart of what divided the candidates.

It is well known that I don't agree with Nick on Trident, but perhaps someone could explain to me why I should agree with Chris? His argument appears to be purely financial - don't replace Trident and use the savings on properly equipping the forces. When I discussed this issue with one the Navy PR guy earlier in the week, he was very clear - they didn't buy this argument because as far as they were concerned, Trident was a small part of the budget and in any case they did not expect any savings were it scrapped, to come back to them. So, whilst of course I agree it is a total waste of money, I cannot for the life of me get what Chris is saying differently from the party policy position? Sit on the fence, wait and see, then - if necessary, replace with something nuclear. Does it matter whether it is a smaller alternative to Trident _ it is still deadly isn't it? Why does no one challenge both candidates on how they can be anti Nuclear Power and pro Nuclear Arms - er.............on the grounds of, cost...........and safety? And Chris made much of Trident being part of his platform last time, but has STILL NOT GIVEN AN EXPLANATION OF WHY HE WAS HIDING WHEN THE TRIDENT DEBATE TOOK PLACE?????????

But, I do have to give credit where it is due. I had joked with someone who thought Chris had a better voice than Nick, yes, it's beautiful, sends me to sleep! Last night was the most animated I have seen Chris, he came across a lot better, at last his body language matched his rhetoric, so credit to him for that.

Reading the posts from yesterday I think Nich Starling has a good analysis of the performances of both candidates, even if I wouldn't share his conclusion! I posted last night on the basis of snippets that were getting through to me from someone who was there. When I watched the debate it further reinforced for me why I support Nick. If we have a choice of who should lead us, we all have our own image of what we want that leader to look like, generally, we all look holistically (although of course there are some who are swayed by one issue or characteristic). We need to respect that in each other and the fact that that combination, not only of what we look for, but what we see, will differ. I have had some interesting private debates about the leadership with one of my friends, who is sitting on the other side of the debate from me at the moment. We both have very similar ideas, but find that we see the candidates who meet our ideals completely differently! I think this is demonstrated in the way different bloggers have responded to last night - contrast Bernard with Caron (funnily enough Caron it was Chris's tie I was horrified at! Maybe an indication of what I have just said) for example.

So, here is my own rationale for backing Nick, taking into account QT last night as well as his track record, with the caveat that of course it is a hugely personal analysis.

Earlier on this year I was somewhat taken to task for expressing a view that Ming was perhaps "over promoted" and hadn't captured the imagination of the party or the country, despite being a brilliant shadow Foreign Sec. So for me one of the key issues in who we get to lead us is that they can capture the imagination of the party and more importantly the country. We are very good at talking to ourselves. I can remember coming out of Ming's conference speech, getting a call from a pal who was raving about how good it was. However, my feeling was that whilst I absolutely agreed it was an excellent speech, we were rather like a religious rally where everyone leaves imagining that the whole world is with them..........but the reality being that all too often they are inhabiting a bubble.

So top priority for me is this - Who can communicate our message?

The problem with last night it seems to me is that with the emphasis being on what divided the men in terms of policy (as important as that is) we didn't get much of a chance to see who got our overall message across best. Whether we like it or not, Nick is the one who captures the imagination, the one everyone clammers to hear speak at fringe meetings, the one the media warms too. And much as I may share the loathing that the media plays such a key role in all of this, we ignore that role at our peril. Having said that, if Chris can keep up the level of animation he managed last night he would do a lot better, but all too often I find myself drifting off wondering if I have any milk in the fridge when he is speaking. If he can't keep a political anorak engaged, will he be able to engage those who are totally disengaged from politics altogether?

Second priority for me is Who will best represent me?

Now, I am not talking about policy (that is my next priority!) I am talking about who do I feel best reflects my beliefs, feelings, passions. Who can I trust to be a champion for the values I espouse and the beliefs I hold? Who will be unafraid to get their hands dirty, to take risks, to say what everyone is thinking and daren't say, even if it is at personal cost? For me this again has to be Nick. As demonstrated last night, he is motivated, not by personal gain, but by anger at the poverty that blights lives and stunts opportunity. He talks about the grotesque way in which this government demonises and criminalises young people. He is passionate about the defence of our civil liberties and our human rights. I have never heard Chris speak with such passion about these issues. Nick is someone whose whole persona oozes not just charm but compassion - the compassion which has lead to his anger. I am sorry, but I personally don't see that in Chris. That is not to say he doesn't have many personal qualities, in fact I was thinking the other day I think I would be quite comfortable if he were my doctor, he does have quite a reassuring manner. But we've done "safe pair of hands" and look where that got us?!

Third priority for me Who will share my policy priorities?

Now, this is third for a very good reason. Policy, dear reader, is the domain of the members in our party. Sometimes, emotional blackmail makes it hard for us to vote against our leaders of course, however, sensible leaders see the writing on the wall early enough to avoid embarrassment!

I am not a "policy wonka" as Nick would describe them, despite being on FPC. This probably frustrates those who are more wonkish about policy making, but I hope I fulfill my mission to goad, challenge and offer more of a "big picture" perspective.

I have a number of policy aspirations, some of which I sit on my lonely windy hill in FPC and have to accept I am on my own, some of which I am happy see many others in the party share. Working on the Crime Policy Working Group was a great reassurance to me of why I am in this party, we are a truly liberal party and there is far more that unites us than divides us. This has been evident in the leadership contest up til now, everyone trying desperately to find what divides the candidates. So - a few examples - I differ from both candidates on these issues:

  • Trident - I want to get rid of it now.
  • Tax - I want a 50p top rate and a raising of the threshold so that no one on the minimum wage pays tax.
  • LVT - We said we would look at it, we really haven't.
  • Youth Services - it's no good just investing in formal education you need to invest in informal education too.
  • Post Office - totally opposed to our current policy.
  • Role of the private sector - for me its not about whether you devolve decision making down to a local level (which with some caveats I agree with) and then wash your hands of it, it's about having a clear steer on where the private sector can add value (I am not Luddite about this - my argument has always been there is a role for them, in local government we didn't make our own paper, why would we?) but the private sector also has an overriding objective to make a profit for its shareholders. It has to do this before everything else. Frankly if you have to create a false market accompanied by a whole raft of expensive and bureaucratic regulatory legislation, where the customer actually has no choice at all - it is more about lining the pockets of big business than creating a better society (thereendeththelesson!).

So, for me, since neither of the candidates share all my policy objectives, this issue has moved lower down the list. Whoever wins the leadership, I will relish those battles further on along the line!

Last night was important - clearly for many members it will have helped them decide, for others, they may be more confused! For some, like me, it has just helped reinforce their position. But, one think I hope we can all agree on, it has contributed to making this a more interesting contest. Oh, and no, Chris didn't persuade me to change horses!


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting and balanced post.

There is one thing I don't understand though. You say (reasonably) that your top priority is to identify the candidate who can communicate our message most effectively.

You then say 'we didn't get much of a chance to see who got our overall message across best'

Surely an hour of Question Time was a platform for Nick to demonstarte that he can do this? This is exactly the kind of programme that our new leader will have to communicate through.

Linda Jack said...

Sorry, I didn't get my message across very well! What I meant was that because of the narrow focus on issues that were supposed to be contentious between the two, no question gave them the opportunity to really say what we as a party are for. Lots of detail, not a clear, big picture this is what the Lib Dem world looks like.