Newsnight leadership hustings: open thread

by Stephen Tall on November 21, 2007

Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne are standing at their podia waiting for Jeremy Paxman’s grilling on Tuesday’s BBC2 Newsnight. After last Sunday’s fireworks, I imagine we can expect a love-in tonight…

Update: a good performance from both candidates. Interesting to see the fall-out from Sunday’s Politics Show… Nick Clegg was able to lead on the front foot, and looked at perhaps his most comfortable and authoritative of the campaign to date; a somewhat chastened Chris Huhne started on the back foot – apologising for the ‘Calamity Clegg’ briefing – but remained as articulate and in control of his brief as ever, though (perhaps unsurprisingly) with less of the fire in his belly showcased last week.

From a Lib Dem voter’s perspective, probably the clearest divide came on the immigration question. (Though there were nuanced differences expressed thoughout, there was nothing to frighten the horses.) Asked the blunt question David Cameron was forced to confront by Paxo – “Has immigration been too high?” – Nick’s answer was immediate: “No.” (He subsequently commented on the impact on local communities and ineffective government planning, but stressed the need to confront the conservative anti-immigration argument.) Chris’s answer was more nuanced: in certain communities, yes, the impact has been seen to be too high, and has affected the lives of everyday folk – we should recognise this, and face up to it.

An interesting one for Lib Dems to dissect. A couple of weeks back, I – perhaps unfairly – labelled the candidates as purist (Huhne) v. pragmatist (Clegg). Yet on this occasion it was Nick who more brazenly risked the votes of those Daily Mail-fetishists who believe immigration is the root of all evil; while Chris more self-consciously aimed to broaden the party’s message to accept the everyday concerns of those who see the daily effects of immigration.

All in all, a much, much more positive display than Sunday’s Politics Show – and perhaps a little more dull, as a result. (For which many of us, frankly, will give thanks.) Personal impressions: I think Nick edged this one; though perhaps he started under less pressure than Chris, who knew he would have, at some point, to publicly disassociate himself from the infamous anti-Clegg briefing. But both candidates stood up well to the Paxo interrogation – albeit that he seemed slightly muzzled on this occasion – and showed (on the basis of this display at least) that each would be equally capable of withstanding the pressures of the 365x24x7 media.