Shortly after conference last year we were thrown headlong into the drama of a leadership election. At the time I nailed my colours, somewhat firmly, to the Clegg mast. So, am I regretting my decision?
At autumn conference three years ago I was interviewed by ITN about Charles Kennedy (the chat at the time, you may recall, was about whether he was a leader or a chair). At the time I expressed the view that he was doing a great job, but that at the time of the next election we may need someone with different skills. Maybe Charles was the Moses who had lead us to the edge of the promised land, but in the run up to a General Election we may need a Joshua to lead us in! (apologies to those who don't know their Bibles, you'll just have to go look it up!)
Do I still think Nick Clegg is Joshua to Charles Kennedy's Moses? Well, I have had my differences, over taxes, over Trident, over marketization, over...........????? And therein lies my point. I do disagree with Nick on some issues, issues upon which I will no doubt have a bit of a barney with him and others at conference...IF I AM ALLOWED TO SPEAK!!! But on so many issues I absolutely agree with him and will continue to support him. Be that education, crime, mental health, most foreign policy, civil liberties, human rights, localism, diversity. The list is endless.
OK, so I agree with him on loads, I agree with lots of people on loads, but does it mean I think he has cut the mustard as leader? He has received a fair bit of stick from friend and foe alike, most notably the honourable Mr Huhne. He has occasionally dropped himself in it (tho this obsession with how many women he has or hasn't slept with and not just in the gutter press, leaves me cold, sorry, if there aren't more important issues for people to worry about frankly get a life!)
So, my view thus far? Well, you don't plant a sapling and then blame it when it starts to sway a little in the wind. Any new leader needs time to bed in. In Nick's case he has strong enough roots to withstand the buffeting...........and given time will become the mighty oak we are all looking for! He has enormous energy and resilience. He has the fleetness of foot and ability to spot and exploit opportunities that I have been crying out for. Nick has substance where Cameron is all smoke and mirrors. If you will forgive my mixing my metaphors, Nick is the house built on the rock, Cameron is building on sand.
Today he has hit the headlines twice on two different issues. Anyone remember when that has happened before? Firstly he threw down the environmental gauntlet on renewable energy, great coverage, great messages. Secondly he has been the only political leader (anywhere in the world as far as I know) to tell the truth about the Olympics and China. This evening on The World Tonight he showed his metal and did what a leader is expected to do...........speak on behalf of those he leads, I don't know about you, but he certainly spoke for me. He demonstrated that he is not a fairweather politico, he spoke with passion, intelligence and a depth which is almost absent elsewhere. He accused political leaders of being naive, making a mistake, gambling on the idea that this was a way of advancing human rights. He rightly in my view, reflected that this may in fact have the reverse effect. He worried that once the games are over the regime may in fact take the opportunity to act with brutality in Tibet and elsewhere. And of course, given his background, he speaks with some knowledge and authority about China. He rightly challenged the naive notion that the Olympics have nothing to do with politics and feared that Gordon Brown would be swept up with the euphoria of our medal success and would abdicate his responsibility to take the opportunity to speak out against Chinese human rights abuses.
So, in the foothills of conference season I am reminded of comments from my streetwise daughter. Last year she attended her first hustings in Cambridge, her comment at the time "I felt like Chris was talking to the audience and Nick was talking to me". Then, coming out of Nick's conference speech in Liverpool, her total belief that if only everyone, especially her friends, could hear Nick's speech, they would be bound to vote for us.
In conclusion. I don't and never will agree with Nick on everything. I will attract his and others ire for speaking my mind, sorry, I am too long in the tooth to become a default sycophant...........but, he is our jewel in the crown, he can and will be the "Joshua" we need. Watch this space!!!