Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Pay attention – this blog is your essential guide to the leadership election

I notice a posting on Lib Dem Aggregated blogs warning us that with all the interest in the leadership election, our blogs are reaching a wider readership, including the media and political opponents.

Oh bugger! I can't be seen in public looking like this. Hang on while I put a tie on and scrape the tweak strands over the bald pate.

For those 'outsiders' who are researching party members’ views on the leadership election, this blog is all you really need to read. This is because I have an unerring knack of backing losing candidates. Whichever candidate I decide to make my last preference is pretty much bound to win. Just follow the postings here over the next couple of weeks and you will know in advance who will win.

Just look at my track record. In the 1999 leadership contest I voted for Malcolm Bruce for reasons I can’t quite now remember. I think he seemed less pro-project than Kennedy (possibly not my best call) and better organised than Simon. He may have been doing a good job as treasury spokesman too, but it's all a bit of a haze really.

I was one of the few people to vote for Beith over Ashdown in 1988. I remember this election much more clearly than ’99. Paddy gave the impression that he supported a kind of ‘Year Zero’ approach, dropping the word Liberal from the party’s title and wanting us to stop talking about our Liberal heritage. There was also the sinister way in which the same advisors who had poisoned Steel’s relationship with party workers seamlessly transferred themselves to Ashdown’s side.

I was only 10 years old at the time of the Steel v Pardoe contest in 1976 and unaware that it was taking place. But I just know that John Pardoe would have got my vote if I had been old enough and a party member. Pardoe was combative, proud and confident in his Liberal values and sceptical about alliances with the right of the Labour Party. In many ways, he was all I could have hoped for in a Liberal leader. He lost the leadership election by a remarkably wide margin, his seat at the subsequent general election and his political career was over at the age of 45.

In 1967, I was unable even to say the word Liberal let alone have a view on who should succeed Jo Grimond. This was the last time that the MPs alone chose the leader. I am not sure who I would have preferred. Eric Lubbock was a bit eccentric and Emlyn Hooson rather right-wing. But I like to think I would have spotted Jeremy Thorpe as one to avoid. He first permeated my consciousness during the 1974 general election, when I was prone to interrupting my parents' watching the TV news to ask 'Who's that?' about whoever was on screen at the time. With his trilby hats and angular face, Thorpe seemed to me then rather sinister and a bit scary. Nothing that happened subsequently caused me to revise this opinion.

For much of the twentieth century there were no leadership contests, often because the party had too few MPs for there to be more than one credible candidate. Going back further, to 1894, I would have undoubtedly supported the Little Englander Sir William Harcourt (who lost) over the imperialist Lord Rosebery (who won). But I suspect I would have preferred the Marquess of Hartington to W.E. ‘Education Act’ Forster in 1875, thus spoiling a perfect record of backing losers. But even then I would have liked to have seen their magic lantern presentations before reaching my final decision.

Coming back to the present day, as soon as Kennedy resigned I posted here that I would support Ming. No sooner had I done this than demands arose to avoid a ‘coronation’. Then alternative candidates emerged. Then Ming made a mess of prime minister’s question time, then his presentation as the weekend was said to be lacklustre and Simon overtook him as the bookies' favourite.

This leaves me with a dilemma. I still support Ming. But, given my track record, I fear the best way to show this support would be to start noisily praising each of the other candidates in turn.


James said...

Ming appears to be just edging out back in front again in the betting, but it is highly marginal. Mike Smithson on pb.c rallied round him though, and that may be having an effect.

Stephen Glenn said...

Iain may I therefore encourage you on your past record to make it Hughes 4.

Thank you. :-)

frvfvsdvdsv said...

Great post! I'm just curious to know, with the benefit of hindsight, would you still have preferred your chosen candidates to win? Or do you think the party made the right choices?

Angus J Huck said...

Iain, I think you are wrong about John Pardoe.

Pardoe lost heavily to Steel because he had a reputation as an abrasive, tactless character noted for losing his cool with journalists and bullying staff. He also made the mistake of offering uncritical support and succour to Jeremy Thorpe, even when it was clear that Thorpe's career was over.

In 1979, the electors of Cornwall North gave their verdict on Pardoe, and we didn't win the seat back until 1992.

As for the Grimond succession, all I can recall is a TV news item reporting that the new leader of the Liberal Party was to be one Jeremy Thorpe. A lugubrious looking man in an Edwardian suit who, like Willie Whitelaw, had his teeth back-to-front. (Best ever quote: "Mind my hydrangeas.")

I knew nothing about his lifestle till the Scott affair broke, but his colleagues did.

(Recall Lord Byers: "I pride myself on being a champion queer-spotter, and I know Jeremy isn't one.")

The Jenkins/Owen contest of 1982 was a bit of a cliff-hanger, but Jenkins was the favourite.

In those days, Owen was presenting himself as the "left" candidate, who had the "radical cutting-edge". Members were deluded into supporting Owen on that basis. I voted for Jenkins. I couldn't stand the sight of this miserable boor, Owen, with the checked suit and navy-blue raincoat. And my golly, was I proved right!

When Owen shoved Roy aside, there was a coronation. Owen became King, and basically made it up as he went along. He even tried to get the Party to support conscription. (Jenkins once said of Owen, somewhat cuttingly: "Owen talks about weapon systems the way other men talk about good wine.") Owen, himself, managed to get out of National Service by becoming a medical student.

And there was a third SDP leadership contest, again a coronation. That's when poor old Bob MacLennan replaced Owen during the final death throes. (Kennedy was considered "too young" by Rosie Barnes, so stepped aside for Bob.)

Iain said...

My record is as bad as yours, Pardoe, Beith, Hughes. Funnily I regret none even with hindsight. Pardoe had the genuine ability to transform things. I know Beith may not have been as driven as Paddy but there are some cul-de sacs that we wouldn't have wasted time exploring. Hughes opposing a broken labour party last time round, that could have been very effective. As to today, maybe I ought to vote for Ming not Huhne

Angus J Huck said...

Perhaps Pardoe's most celebrated quote is calling Jim Wellbeloved ("Mr Muchdisliked") a "sanctimonious muckraker of the first order". That's when Wellbeloved was pestering the government with questions about the possible security implications of Lord Lambton being photographed in a "compromising position" with Norma Levy.

Lambton's still alive, by the way. Wellbeloved isn't. Oh, and Norma Levy is dying of AIDS.