I’ve written another Comment is Free article on this very subject:
Make no mistake: this election is no shoo-in for either candidate. They are both extremely strong contenders. At its heart, it has become quickly apparent that this election, more than any other in recent years, is going to be about what the Liberal Democrats are for. This isn’t merely a question of policy; it is a question about where the party strikes the balance between gaining power to change things and standing firm in its beliefs with a view to inspiring the electorate. There is real merit in both points of view and it is a question that, with a hung parliament still a possibility, the Lib Dems may yet end up have to answer at a UK level.
My mole in Aberwystwyth has been bloody useless this morning and failed to notify me of Mike German’s decision on whether or not to restand as leader of the Welsh Assembly. To be fair, the mole was exactly right about what they throught German would say, and so it has passed. He has decided to restand (and presumably stand for the vacancy left by Lembit yesterday), but only on the basis of standing down again in 12 months.
Why the lame duck act? Simple: it’s called Operation Stop Peter. If Mike had stood down, the only viable candidate at the moment would have been Peter Black. If Mike hadn’t stood down, Peter would almost certainly have stood against him, and possibly would have won. With no-one else in the running (Eleanor Burnham has repeatedly implied she might stand but hasn’t been setting out her stall in the way Peter has, and as far as I can see lacks his power base), the idea would appear to be to create a 12 month “open vacancy” period with a view to persuading someone else to stand.
With only six Assembly Members, the options are a bit thin on the ground. Kirsty Williams is often sited as the heir to Excalibur but she hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for pulling the sword out of the stone thus far. This is partly because she has a young family, but if this is the case her youngest will still be 2 in 2008 (at least according to that unimpeachable font of all knowledge Wikipedia). The only other option that I’ve heard people mention is Jenny Randerson.
So we must hope that a transitionary period will work and that a strong challenger will emerge from it. In the meantime, we must hope that an essentially rudderless Assembly party will not cause significant problems for the Welsh local elections next May; I suspect it will be effectively neutral, neither helping nor hurting local parties’ chances of making serious inroads and defending their territory. But it will only work in the long run if the potential candidates start sticking their heads above the parapet and begin to engage in a debate on the party’s future.