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.