Tonight I am off to the St Albans hustings, which I hope will enable me to reach a firm decision as to who to vote for.
At the start of the campaign, I thought it almost unimaginable that I wouldn’t vote for Clegg. But events since then have given cause for serious doubts, and I would certainly be more than happy to have Huhne as leader.
The Clegg campaign has been very poor indeed, which gives cause for doubt about Nick’s choice of acolytes. There has been an impression that his organisers, fancying their man to be the equivalent of 1–0 ahead in a football match, have tried to grind out a win, with little attempt to inspire or enthuse or to confront the difficult issues that the party faces. So I can only hope that he will have the strength of character to avoid rewarding his undeserving campaign team with top jobs, thus creating a bunker mentality from the start.
He has appeared too afraid of being painted into the right-wing corner and therefore seems to have kept his comments on public services as anodyne as possible. For example, while I can understand (and agree with) his ruling out of vouchers and continental-style health insurance, I would have liked to hear a clearer willingness to take on the ‘Liberals against choice’ and ‘experts know best’ brigade, who have effectively stifled party debate on public service reform in recent years.
Clegg’s apparent flakiness under attack has also been a problem and he will have to do something it about quickly. It is the lot of third party leaders to be subjected to ridicule by the media and he will have to learn to be more resilient and phlegmatic.
In short, I wanted to be inspired and enthused by the Clegg campaign, but have been disappointed. The ‘bloggers' breakfast' session, as reported by James Graham, provides quite a bit of reassurance. But again the situation was within the Clegg comfort zone – thinking aloud among friends, with the opportunity to be discursive. It’s not the same as being snapped at by Paxman or Humphrys.
Yet I keep hoping that Clegg will come good. Of all the national politicians I have come across, he is the one who combines most clearly both an instinctive and intellectual commitment to Liberalism, which he is capable of not just of articulating as abstract principle, but actually of applying to specific policy areas.
So, come on Nick. Show us tonight that the campaign so far has been an aberration and that you are not merely just a likeable chap and a good liberal, but really have what it takes to be leader.