by Stephen Tall on February 4, 2013
Here’s my 2007 Lib Dem leadership election ballot paper: Chris Huhne got my first preference. (Okay, with only two candidates there wasn’t really a need to mark the figure ‘1’: I’m just a die-hard preferential voter.)
I slightly surprised myself with my vote. Nick Clegg should have been more my cup of ideological tea. Though both he and Chris were ‘Orange Bookers’, it was Nick who was more closely associated with the social-justice-through-market-liberalism which is my philosophical bent and I started off assuming I’d vote for him.
What changed my mind? Well, Nick spent the whole leadership campaign pulling his punches; Chris spent much of the campaign throwing them.
And that, I thought, was the kind of leader the party needed to experience: a robust, take-no-prisoners, bit-of-a-bastard who’d be able to handle the rough-and-tumble of the election campaign to come and wouldn’t quail in front of Paxo. The party was, at the time, jittery about its electoral prospects, facing a pincer movement from Cameron and Brown — both of whom were then trying to pitch their tents on the liberal lawn — and Chris I thought was the most battle-toughened leader on offer. Those qualities, for me, trumped the issue of whether or not I’d always agree with him. So though I stayed officially neutral, my vote went to Chris and I was even persuaded to do a bit of under-cover phone campaigning for him.
Do I regret my decision now? Probably. Chris showed a tragic character flaw in his decision to lie and cover-up a criminal offence. (Though there but for the grave of God etc.) But then I’m not sure I’m the best picker of future party leaders. My track record as a party member to date reads: Blair (1994), Rendel (1999), Campbell (2006) and Huhne (2007). Next time there’s a vacancy, I’d strongly urge Lib Dem members to ignore my recommendation and do the complete opposite.*
On the plus side, Chris’s downfall has brought out the generous best in a couple of right-wingers with whom I often disagree.
First, the Telegraph’s Iain Martin:
I am not a practising Christian. But even though I was raised in the Church of Scotland, where God is very much an optional extra, I can recognise the value of Christian forgiveness. As our country becomes steadily more secular, the liberal hope is that it becomes, in some vague way, kinder and more understanding of weakness and difference. The very opposite seems to be the case. … More broadly, shoutiness of various sorts seems to be mandatory. There, I’ve said it. I feel sorry for Chris Huhne. Go on, shout at me.
And Iain Dale (who it’s great to see back blogging, by the way):
… he was a major talent, a good minister and one of their keenest brains. No doubt he will become persona non grata but his talent will not be easy to replace. Andrew Mitchell once told me that Huhne took to government like a duck to water. If he promised something to a fellow Minister he delivered on it. You could count on his support in Cabinet. … Chris Huhne is easy meat today, but before he is fed to the wolves, think about his state of mind. People sometimes do desperate things in these circumstances.
John Major once said that society should learn to understand a little less and condemn a little more. He got it completely the wrong way round. Kudos to the two Iains for putting their humanity on display.
* Please note, I reserve the right to attempt reverse psychology.