Friday, October 26, 2007

Lib Dem leadership contest

I don't know about you but I'm at a loss over the Lib Dem leadership choice. It seems very difficult to judge what the difference between the candidates are, if any. Going by the media coverage very little. Anyway, I decided to take the rather radical approach of actually asking them... I know, I know this doesn't fit in with the leftist traditions of pontificating about stuff you don't know anything about but I thought hey, I might actually learn something.

Very kindly two Lib Dem bloggers have obliged me - here are their contributions;

For Nick Clegg, Cllr Matt Davies

Reading the BBC website at the weekend, you might have seen the headline ‘Lib Dem leadership race about presentation’ – and to a certain extent, that is true. Unless you have two factions trying to pull a party in opposite directions, internal party elections largely come down to individuals and personal experience.

There is little ideologically to separate Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne – and, at the risk of sounding like a party loyalist, I would be perfectly happy if Chris did become our leader in December. So why did I decide to support Nick?

I first became aware of Nick when the BBC ran a documentary about some legislation he was leading through the European Parliament as an MEP. It was essentially a law on consumer rights, looking at preventing mobile phone rip-offs, and it became the fastest piece of legislation to ever get through the European Parliament (although it probably still took years). Nick came across very well on the programme – intelligent, thoughtful and incredibly determined, just what I want from a Lib Dem campaigner and leader.

That was a good start. And seeing Nick debating and giving interviews since, especially as he fought the liberal corner as Shadow Home Secretary, I have been ever more impressed. He’s straight talking, likeable and a leader who I think the public will engage with.

Charles Kennedy was clearly very popular with the public, but he was not always very good at communicating our policies. Ming Campbell was well-respected by the public and an excellent leader who never got a fair run from the media. With time, I hope Nick will become even more popular and well-respected than either of them – and I know he can get the Liberal Democrat message across with conviction.

The period up until the next general election is vital for the Liberal Democrats. We need to articulate our policies clearly and appeal to a wide range of people who have previously voted for other parties or none. After three successive general elections of progress, we can’t afford to slip back and run the risk of a two-party state taking over. I believe Nick is the best person to take on the challenge.

In the last two leadership elections I backed David Rendel and then Simon Hughes, so I don’t have a good track record. But this time I think I’ve picked the winner.

Cllr Matt Davies, Lib Dem, Fortis Green

For Chris Huhne, Jock Coats, Secretary of Lib Dems ALTER

The decisive factor in my support for Chris Huhne as Lib Dem leader is his demonstrable grasp of economics in general and what I would call the liberal economic tradition in particular. Not everyone may be aware but Chris is President of the Lib Dems' ALTER group that campaigns for land value tax – a Green Party policy from Ottawa to Oxford – and other economic structural reforms.

With his acknowledged successes at the environment portfolio Chris has shown that the idea of “Tax Switching” away from what we make through generally beneficial economic processes like labour and onto what we consume of the common assets of our planet – land, water, air, fossil fuels and the rest of nature's bounty – holds the key to improving the lot of ordinary working people at the expense of those who squander those resources.

But this has much more relevance than only in environmental policy.Even if we aren't damaging the planet's ability to sustain us overall, the twenty-first century would likely be marked by disputes over access to those resources between developed and developing nations alike. If we are to avoid those escalating into full blown wars foreign, international development and defence policies need to promote structural global economic changes that reward efficient use of those resources and give those currently without a fair chance of access to them.

A more economically equitable world is also one in which fewer people migrate to access opportunities, and fewer resent others enough to want to attack them. So our economic treatment of the rest of the world reduces our need for the sort of measures to “protect” us that threaten our civil liberties.

Finally, in invoking the spirit of the great liberal reformers of the early twentieth century Chris points to how we can marry economic liberalism – with truly free trade, breaking up the systemic monopolies that entrench the unearned privilege of banker, landowner and capitalist over the worker – with the social liberal desire to ensure that everyone has opportunities to maximise their prosperity and potential and, yes, choice, whilst reducing our addiction to welfare.

As Chris says, “it's the economy, stupid” that's going to dominate all these policy areas if we are to break the cycle of concentration of unearned wealth, dispossession of the poor, and destruction of our planet, and it will take someone with a mastery of the subject to be able to present that distinctively liberal agenda at every opportunity.

Jock Coats,
Secretary of Lib Dems ALTER, blogs at and is involved in a
cross-party group planning centennial celebrations of Lloyd George's 1909 "People's Budget" (


sanbikinoraion said...

I think that these two chaps themselves capture the essence of the difference between the two men in their essays - Matt's is about the politics and presentation, leading to electoral success, whereas Jock actually pushes the good ideas.

Likewise, I think Clegg is a far better man to get us electoral success, whereas Huhne has a far sounder grasp of the policies and theory. Ideally, Huhne would make the policies and Clegg would sell them.

Jock Coats said...

Since this is a Green Party member's blog and the posts aimed at explaining a little about our candidates to the Greens it seem ironic that the first two comments come from Lib Dems.

But it is appropriate that it is a Green forum because when I posted last week about having some kind of "double headed" leadership as you sort of suggest in your last sentence, it didn't go down very well with Lib Dems - but it is something the Greens are quite used to.

But perhaps those in the Greens could tell us how well or not it works for them. I noted a debate in the Guardian I think a few months ago with various arguments presented by leading Green Party figures for and against a single leader, and note that in their latest internal elections have continued to have a two principal speaker arrangement (albeit one male, one female which probably makes it easier to sell if nothing else).

Personally I think "presentation" is largely what's wrong in modern politics and recall that we did our best so far under a guy that was "chat show Charley" rather than "podium politics".

Sean said...

I can barely restrain my indifference.

Jim Jay said...

You're right Jock - the Greens have a very different view of how leadership should work in a political party.

I hesistate to comment in detail on how well it works as I'm responsible for the referendum ballot and have been studiously maintaining my neutrality on the question throughout. However, the transition is less about whether to have two or one figure head (the Greens used to have seven principal speakers apparently, shudder) but whether those that head up the media end of the party be "leaders" or simply representatives of the party, articulating it's principals.

If the referendum was successful in introducing the title of leader it's still very likely that the Greens would have two co-leaders - we find it works for us to allow some work life balance and not to put so much authority in a single figure (with all the problems that may incure if they are not media friendly, or have hidden flaws that later come to light)

Jock Coats said...

I suppose one difference is that we seemingly assume that our next leader will one day have to take the taxi to the palace to be asked to form a government. And that therefore the "people" have a right to see and get to know the person that is likely to be and for whom (in large part) they will be voting in an election.

I do differ and would prefer a team approach, including parts of the leadership team that are not in parliament - eg leading councillors, MEPs and members of devolved assemblies. I'd have this team and then rotate the actual "chair" of that team by vote amongst that group each year - like the Swiss presidency I guess!

But I can't whip up any enthusiasm for such an idea!