This blog is a political blog from a left-of-centre perspective. This is not specifically a party political blog, but does have a Lib Dem orientation. Constructive enagement with radical liberals, social democrats / democratic socialists and greens is particularly welcomed.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Our Voters Want Simon for Leader !

Party members are incredibly insular and concerns of party members often conflict with that of its voters and potential supporters in the country. Simon Hughes is the figure that resonates best with our voting public as the recent YouGov poll indicates.

Martin Turner of Lib Dem Christian Forum sums up my own views succinctly when he states that Simon is a man of

" conscience and integrity, vision, charisma and clarity, he is inspiring, loyal, generous and experienced..."

Chris Huhne seems to be impressing many members [including me] and indeed he has injected policy issues into the campaign more assertively that the other contenders. However, he comes across as so wooden and lacking in charisma. His literature mentiones attributes like being a 'one man think tank'. Now this might excite politicos but I believe that the wider public are more interested in the wider canvas of which themes and issues the party wish to project and be indentified with. This latter approach, has enabled the Lib Dems being indentified with opposition to the Iraq war, for progressive taxation, the environment, civil liberties, electoral and constitutional reform et al. It was the direction of the party and the issues it chose and the way they were communicated by Charles Kennedy that retained and attracted new supporters alike in recent years. Communication is key.

Watching News24 yesterday I was reminded that however well-intentioned and politically clever, I just cannot see Chris Huhne coming across well to the wider public. Sorry, but he is grey in every sense of the word. Labour members loved Michael Foot, the public didn't. Ditto Kinnock. Tory members chose IDS, but predictably the British public rejected the 'quiet man'. In their hearts Tory grassroots would probably have preferred Davis to Cameron, but for once the 'nasty party' realised in their desperation to win that Cameron might be the better bet.

We need to learn from these experiences. Where's the passion from Huhne? No Hughes-like feeling of anger at social injustice, ability to insire the foot-soldiers, no 'heart-on-the-sleave' politics, nothing from the heart at all seemingly.

And, worse still, although David Cameron is something of a political chameleon and policy-lite, his 'easy style' and broad themes he has addressed has given the public the erroneous impression of a changing Tory party. Perception as much as reality matters in politics sadly. I just can't see Huhne doing the same and communicating in such a media-savvy way.

One plus point from all the leadership debates is that we are more united on basic principles that maybe many thought. The differences are more about nuance and how we achieve the goals we have in common. It has, though, led to some dull-ish debates. On News24 yesterday we had predictable questions on Iraq, hung parliaments, Kennedy et al. The responses by now are so well rehearsed !

Cliches of the campaign ? Worst offender ? Ming Campbell ! Ming's '..bridge to the future' .. his being a 'gut liberal', the need not to have three management companies running Britain...declarations of his energy, and his being on the centre-left of British politics - or on the right of the old Liberal Party as 'Lord' Greaves puts it.

Chris' favourite : not being a second class Labour or Tory person and repeatedly boasting of how successful his business life has been.

Simon ? the ' I'm in the mainstream of the party ' ...the I'm not too radical really stance.

To be honest I'll be glad when the result is announced. I've had enough of it now. My thoughts are turning to the 'leadership contest' about who is who the new manager of Nottingham Forest FC. Now that is REALLY important ! After my gibes of yesterday I can't believe that the clown that is Gary Megson is to return to the circus. I had the same sense of relief as the day Thatcher was dethroned. Onwards and upwards from here !


Blogger Jock Coats said...

Good job the voters don't have a say then!

Communication is about more than being able to make some fiery speech on the stump.

Able to communicate is about being able to put often complex ideas, nuances of policy, into words people can understand.

Our last leader was almost loved for not being able to communicate IMHO, but bumbling along, sometimes getting confused, but coming across honestly as trying, not spinning.

The reasons many of us want Chris are precisely because Westminster has become a tired old dustbin of mediocre political discourse and we need to carve a new political economic narrative. When it comes to explaining that, Chris will be streets ahead IMHO (almost, I add, precisely because he's not that well known - as has been shown in this contest, people seek him out to find out what he's all about - familiarity to a very great extent really does breed contempt in politics - Mandy Rice-Davies applies to familiar faces)

11:48 am GMT

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with Hughes is he is not clear.
He feels anger at the problems of 'social justice' but cannot supply ways to overcome them.

He is very much a sound-bite campaigner, too fuzzy on the actual issues.

His leadership style would also be autocratic as his presidency has shown.

He makes rash statement which he cannot follow through on (more members than Labour anyone?) and which will lead the party to being a laughing stock.

He is a supurb local campaigner (although Labour increased their vote in his constituency at the election, against national trend) but this does not make him suitable to lead a party.

He is not quite a 'resign from the party if he wins' candidate (as say Laws might be for many) but I think he would lead the party down a dead end.

Finally, he does not seem to understand the difference between social justice in a liberal sense and socialism.

11:55 am GMT

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't you think it is somehow surreal to demand the members use their right to vote according to some obscure poll of self-proclaimed Lib Dem voters? If they wanted to affect the outcome of the leadership election, why didn't they join the party?

What the YouGov poll actually indicates is that what comes to the name recognition, Hughes is the best known. Mike Smithson has also completely refuted the poll here.

12:06 pm GMT

Blogger Andy said...

I quite agree with you. I went to the Cambridge hustings the other night. Huhne just doesn't have the presentation skills to put our policies across as effectively as he might. Simon is by far the most charismatic and believable figure on offer, and if his media difficulties have managed to stall his campaign, then it is a tragedy for the party.

2:15 pm GMT

Blogger Barrie Wood said...

Actually I think the Leader is something of a salesperson for the party, so the sound-bite campaigner skills you allude to I would see as a communication skill.

He can make rash statements and errors of judgement, witness the 100 seats pledge and failing to tell the tabloids to 'get stuffed' following intrusions into his personal life, as did Cameron over the issue of drugs.

However, most of our second places are to Labour and he would resonate better with urban audiences than his rivals. Ming comes across as too patrician and Tory-like, whilst policy wonk-er Huhne doesn't have the charisma to 'sell' the party. He, does, however have the ability to generate policy detail and would well complement Hughes' skills well. A big front bench position is his surely.

But 7 wins in; arguably, traditional Labour territory says it all about his campaigning skills and ability to inspire, especially beyond traditional Liberal strongholds.

Your remark on social justice could be a book-filler and would be a great area for in-depth discusion !
Coming from anything but a 'tweed and cardigans' middle-class background though, Simon speaks my language, and in this weeks 'Lib Dem News' when asked what matters to him most politically he answered straighforwardly : "Fairness. Social Justice'. That'll do for me.

As for other candidates I can live with either of them too. The likes of David Laws or Mark Oaten leading the party would be a different proposition all-together.

4:17 pm GMT

Blogger Barrie Wood said...


The voters will get the most important say in 2009-ish. It's important we get someome that less policically engaged people can relate to also, rather than one who has the greatest appeal amongst party activists. 73,000 members alone are going to elect few MPs, MSPs and AMs.

Thinking we know better than our voters, existing and potential, is surely the kind of arrogance that turns most people off politics and politicians.

Further, to pretend the personality of the leader doesn't matter is folly in my view. Consider CK's personality, much loved by the public, as recent campaigning in Scotland amplifies. And, with the policy-lite but media friendly David Cameron chasing our votes I fear Chris would look wooden in comparison. Sadly Blair, in particular, has reduced UK politics to bite-sized pronouncements. Cameron understands this and so must we. The Leader must be a good media operator.

I've been impressed with Huhne, hence the second preference, but see Simon as the best seller of our vision, values and policies.

4:38 pm GMT

Blogger David Stewart said...

You make Simon Hughes leader of the Lib Dems and you'll never see Downing Street in thirty years.

1:37 pm GMT

Blogger Barrie Wood said...


Hmmm...advice from a member of the spectacularly successful Scottish Conservatives ! One to ignore I think. Not the most erudite of opinions !

3:55 pm GMT

Blogger Barrie Wood said...

PS : I've just read David's 'analysis ' of the Dunfermile and West Fife by-election :

They've been getting a lot of publicity recently, people saw Scot Charles Kennedy walking through the streets and decided to give him and his party the sympathy vote.

3:59 pm GMT

Blogger MatGB said...

Sympathy vote?

Someone ought to explain to David the principles behind the third party squeeze ratchett effect.

Anyway, I am actually inclined to agree with him on the leadership thing; for me it's Huhne first, Ming second, Simon third. I like Simon, but he's not a party leader, he's a party activist.


It's important we get someome that less policically engaged people can relate to also, rather than one who has the greatest appeal amongst party activists.

Lawyer, been in Parliament for more than 20 years, never had a "real" job. Yes, he can counter all of them, but... He's an excellent President, and long may he remain so.

1:16 pm GMT


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