I’m not sure I’ve got the hang of this blogging business yet. There is so much to respond to – people even ask me what I think and I never get round to replying (yes, James Graham, you’re absolutely right!).
The problem, I suppose, is that I ought really to have instant reactions. I do, but they’re often complete rubbish. Which is my excuse for writing something about the leadership debate on Question Time a full 36 hours after it happened (mea culpa)
I thought it was an impressive, civilised debate. I thought Nick Clegg won, but only by a whisker, but then all that seemed to be up for debate was the candidates’ abilities to articulate identical responses.
Yet there is an issue in this leadership contest, it just isn’t one that can be spoken entirely openly – so this is, inevitably, an interpretation of it. The issue is this: will the Lib Dems continue with the same basic tactics and strategy but better, or will they re-think precisely why they want to achieve power and how? Will they stay a tight, slightly inward-looking band of initiated enthusiasts, or will they reach out and find new ways of knitting together a Liberal coalition?
This is also – surprise, surprise – the key issue for me. I approach the candidates with the following questions:
• Will they renew the intellectual basis of Liberalism (we’re still living off the ideas from Grimond’s leadership four decades ago)?
• Will they articulate a new approach to politics that is capable of pulling opinion formers behind the party (or will they just assume, as we have done, that most of them are simply ‘against us’)?
• Will they update, renew and deepen our community politics heritage so that helping people ‘take and use power’ is at the heart of our strategy (or will they carry on assuming it’s just about leaflets and elections)?
• Will they engage with the ferment of new ideas outside the party (or will they fall back on the tried-and-tested way of expressing things that has served us well since 1979)?
• Will they stitch together an innovative platform capable of providing political leadership for the voluntary sector (as we did successfully in the 1960s)?
Since this is inevitably not part of the public debate, we have to read the code. But I take it from Clegg’s description of the last two years of the party as ‘inward-looking’ and his urge to take the party “out of its comfort zone” that he realises how much we’ve got stuck, and is prepared to do something about it.
Huhne may feel the same; I might be wrong. But the careful tailoring of his message to the defensive fears of activists leads me to believe it isn’t so high up his agenda.
That’s why I’m backing Clegg. Because I believe he will be bolder and more thoughtful on our behalf, and boldness and thought are what we need more than anything else right now.