I have refrained from commenting on the Lib Dem leadership election, partly because I am genuinely undecided and have been examining both candidates ideas. My initial reaction was to favour Nick Clegg. I had listened to his speech at Brighton and felt that he had put forward a genuinely modern, intellectually coherent and above all Liberal policy on Home affairs. Indeed on 18 Doughty St, I more or less said I would be supporting Nick Clegg. Nevertheless, I have also seen Chris Huhne put forward some genuinely radical policies- including taking the idea of Land tax seriously- which I think is a positive.
http://www.politicalbetting.com/, in something of a coup for its host Mike Smithson, has had both of the contenders on to answer questions from the large number of people who comment (not to mention the even larger number of people who read the site).
To my surprise, I must admit that Chris Huhne gave more coherent and more fully thought out answers- possibly because he was invited on a weekend and also answered far more questions, but what disappointed me more about Nick Clegg was this answer to a question Mike Killingworth put forward about the placing of Liberalism on the Political Spectrum:
"I am squarely part of the radical liberal tradition of British political thought. When I was young there were only two options: you either had a social conscience but were economically illiterate and voted Labour; or you were economically literate but had a heart of stone, in which case you voted Tory. That has now all changed. Politics is more fluid and society is more diverse. Liberalism is the creed of our times."
Because Chris put it so much better:
"Left and right are old terms in a debate that is often about liberal and illiberal, authoritarian and laissez-faire. They apply to the particular 1945-1970 period of British politics when voting was largely explained by class. Now that voting is more open, and based on ideas and attitudes, there is a role for a big liberal party in British politics. My model is the Canadian Liberal Party, able to represent the half of the electorate who think of themselves as liberal."
Many of my friends have characterised the debate between the two candidates as "Huhne who can communicate to the party, but Clegg can communicate to the country". However, I am concerned that Nick is not crisp enough in communicating to his party or his country, whereas Huhne is coming across as more intellectually coherent. Having read in detail Chris' comment about Trident, I was very surprised to find that I agreed with him. Trident is not an independent nuclear deterrent, and if we need one, we can still have one without Trident. Chris is not being a unilateralist, whatever some remarkably ill tempered comments in the Lib Dem blogosphere may say. It was dishonest of Nick's team to try to tar Chris with that particular brush.
So, to my great surprise I am still undecided, I favoured Nick Clegg at first, I now find that Chris is coming across better. I am also not persuaded by Paddy and Shirley's email in support of Nick, partly because their judgement in the matter of the leadership has not been universally strong: they supported Charles, knowing that he had issues about drink, and also Ming, when perhaps we should have thought more carefully.
So, I will listen some more, but I an surprisingly uneasy with Nick Clegg's communication so far: he needs to provide more intellectual bottom to his campaign. To be honest I would like to see his manifesto- to match Chris's in clarity.
Could it even be- highly unlikely when the campaign began- that Chris Huhne gets my vote?
We shall see.