Hmmm… Huhne?

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Yesterday’s PMQs said all too much about both of the main challengers in the Lib Dem leadership contest and the problem with the party in general. Both of them had seized on the idea that it would be tactically very good to ask a question, but neither of them showed much evidence of having really thought it through.

By contrast, I know an MP who got a shot at PMQs and spent a week agonising about what their strategy should be. The eventual question was beguilingly simple, yet led to favourable coverage in almost every single sketch column. PMQs may sometimes resemble a school playground game, but it is really political chess at its purest, and anyone who doesn’t regard it as such shouldn’t waste everyone’s time by “having a go”.

Which leads me to Chris Huhne. Too inexperienced? Well, it’s true that he’s only been an MP since May, but he was an MEP for six years before then. Not to mention his years of experience as a journalist. A divisive Orange Book moderniser? Well, Huhne wrote Quality, Innovation, Choice, a superb policy report about the direction public services should go under a Lib Dem government. It briefly united the party, both left and right, yet for some baffling reason it was never internalised by the party at the top and was ignored in the General Election campaign (in fact, a lot of its reforms were included in the manifesto, but we didn’t campaign on any of them). Low profile? An anonymous source in the Guardian suggested that he wasn’t known among grassroots because he “only” represented the South East. The South East Euro Region has 15,000 members – approximately 20% of the party – and Huhne regularly communicated with all of them while he was an MEP (better in fact than most MEPs).

Regular readers of his blog will know that I have an obsession with economic and land reform and environmental policy. I’m happy to say that Chris Huhne isn’t anything like as obsessive as me, but he is the only candidate on offer who has an active interest – and a platform – on all these issues.

My struggle at the moment is to figure out why I shouldn’t back him. I have a few, but they aren’t very substantial (too insubstantial in fact to mention here). Any suggestions?

UPDATE: Can I just take a moment to copyright the phrase “For Huhne the Bell Tolls?” thanks.

12 thoughts on “Hmmm… Huhne?

  1. His wafer-thin majority over the Tories in Eastleigh is a wee bit of a worry. I’m aware that party leaders usually get a boost in their constituency vote, but the Tories are likely to put forward a vigorous campaign in his seat which might force him to stay at home more instead of spreading the message around the country. I’m not vetoing him on that basis alone, but it is a concern.

  2. Paul: The wonders the the “edit” button 🙂

    Ranald: I think the Tories are all too aware of the dangers of adopting a decapitation strategy.

  3. The history of peripheral figures standing for the leadership is not a happy one. Look at David Rendel and Jackie Ballard.

    Chris Huhne will be lucky to get 5% (that’s 1.3% less than David Rendel managed). And unlike Rendel, Huhne is a blurry personality with a blurry message (he may be very worthy, and have deep specialist knowledge, but he won’t get that across).

    The Parliamentary underperformance in Eastleigh is very much a worry. And there is a nasty omen here. Rendel and Ballard both got hammered in the leadership election, then went on to lose their seats to the Tories.

    In all-member leadership elections, the favourite has always won so far: Steel, Jenkins, Ashdown, Kennedy. That is because members tend to vote for candidates whose names are familiar and have high media profiles.

    Cameron won the Tory leadership because he had been lionised in the media. That won’t happen to Oaten, Hughes and Huhne.

    And Blair beat John Prescott for much the same reason.

    I’m sorry, but when you have an electorate which mainly lacks intimate knowledge of the candidates and their attributes, the whole process has a habit of degenerating into a sham.

  4. That’s an argument for why Huhne won’t win, which I’d largely take issue with (Huhne is actually a very able communicator as well as a policy wonk, he’s won 2 all member ballots in a row where the constituency consisted of 20% of the party, he’s getting a bit of a media head of steam), not for not backing him. If I want my personal agenda included in the leadership debate, my best bet is to back a candidate who in some way represents that agenda.

  5. Sure. Blair beat Prescott because Blair had been hyped by the media as a sort of saviour figure. Even more so than Cameron.

    Blair was talent-spotted by the people Webster Griffin Tarpley calls the “invisible government”. The Murdoch press and their place-people in the TV and radio networks handled the formality of the all-member leadership election.

    To be fair, Prescott would not have made a good Prime Minister. Gordon Brown might have done. Which is why the “invisible government” arranged, through their operative, Mandelson, to shove Brown out of the way.

    Cameron is the “invisible government’s” replacement for Blair. I have often wondered if Mark Oaten is somewhere on the “reserve list”, but doubt it really. David Owen was one. He was a “reserve” for Thatcher. Remember that leaflet they put out at the 1988 Kensington byelection? “When SHE goes you will need the SDP”?

    The “invisible government” wants politicians who can be relied upon to serve the interests of big business and the US military industrial complex and oil industry with utmost loyalty and servility. Like Blair and Cameron; and Dr David Owen.

    Oaten might fancy himself as an “invisible government” stooge, but I really don’t think they give a stuff about the Liberal Democrats.

  6. How about?

    “I’d sooner have Huhne.”

    “Ring for Ming.”

    “Beat the blues. Vote Hughes.”

    “Light a spark. Vote for Mark.”

  7. Pingback: Liberal Review

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