The final leadership hustings of the race took place last night (27th November) in London and here is my exclusive report, jotted down throughout the night:
Arriving early, all us poor unfortunate undecideds were accosted by the various members of the opposing campaign teams and told why we were wrong to not to have chosen sooner, with leaflets, stickers and even DVDs shoved under our noses and into our defenceless palms. Tell me, at what point did leadership hustings become for those who had already made their minds up, as there certainly seemed to be more supporters than fence-sitters present?
A clear way to tell who was voting for who was to look at the balloons - grass stain green for Huhne and vomit yellow for Clegg - although I'm not entirely sure there were two candidates, as the layout of their respective stickers made it look as though they were all supporting a chap called Chris Clegg.
In the pre-speech melee:
The Speeches - Chris Huhne
Huhne kicked things off, praising Vince Cable's acting leadership of the party (and even seeming to dare out loud whether he shouldn't continue in the post), before launching into the obligatory attack on Labour and the Tories and how they are fighting over the same (conservative ground). He insisted he wasn't that kind of man, and wouldn't lead the kind of party that would do the same.
He went as far to accuse Labour of corruption over the cash for peerages affair and divulged that he has asked the police to investigate the latest donations row - it's tempting to say here that there doesn't need to be an investigation, the chief suspect has already admitted the illegality.
He wrapped up the Labour and Tory bashing by saying he wants to lead a "radical" party, rather than a third conservative party. He used that word, radical, a lot, and I'm not sure that will necessarily win us votes. Can you see people voting for a party that adopts the rhetoric of anarchists?
Regarding Trident, he sees it as a way to make up for the shortfalls in the Army's spending which we've heard a bit about over the last week.
There was a bit about public service devolution, which I'm sure was very interesting, but I kind of glazed over during it.
When he moved on to civil liberties he sounded mildly patriotic in arguing that we shouldn't trade liberty for security - emphasising the British values inherent in the those civil liberties.
The environment is Huhne's obvious strong point, and he sounded his best during this part of the speech. He used the party's strong leadership on the environment during his tenure as environment spokesperson to argue that we would become as strong on the "bread and butter issues" if he were leader.
His final words:
"[Under my leadership] we will lead nothing less than a liberal revolution for the British people."
The Speeches - Nick Clegg
Clegg began by highlighting the inequalities in London - on housing, life-expectancy and life chances. But he wasn't all negative on the city, he also said it gave him "hope" through its multiculturalism, its dynamism and its economy. I liked the way he tuned his initial message to the London audience in a way I don't think Huhne did.
He broke his speech down in to five bite size chunks:
- Epidemic of powerlessness: He spoke on the giganticness of the state and private companies. He unfortunately co-opted Little Britain during this section ("computer says no" culture), but I did like the alliteration of "BT said talk to Talk-Talk, Talk-Talk said talk to BT" as much as he did. His theme here wasn't just that old chestnut of a government that hands power from Whitehall down to Town Hall, but also of a government that is on the side of the people all the time, not just on polling day.
- Social stagnation and segregation: He pointed to life chances being ruined by the current system of education. He called for a world class schools system for everyone (not just those who went to Westminster then), achieving this simply through injecting more cash (paid for how?) and he pledged to put education at the forefront of the party's policies going into the next election ("education, education, education" anyone?).
- Fear: Oooooo... I like that this was one of his themes. He argued that fear imprisoned us not just in our homes but also in our minds and that if we are really to be a party of social justice, we need to concentrate not just on civil liberties and human rights, but also apply our values to practical, everyday concerns of the poor (as it is those who have most to fear in modern day Britain).
- The Environment: He recognised that the environment isn't everyone's number one priority (hooray!), but he wants to motivate people to our cause, as well as making government and business do their fair share in combating climate change.
- Globalisation: Like public services devolution with Huhne, I kind of glazed over during this one - there was something about how it leads to apathy, which benefits populist reactionaries like the BNP.
Before I wrap this section up I should mention that unlike Huhne, Clegg spoke without notes. I don't know why, but this always impresses me.
His final words:
"We all want to live in a more liberal Britain."
The notes here aren't as full, but I've picked out a couple of things which are of interest:
- There seemed to be a strong anti-US sentiment from both candidates (and from the hall)... Or maybe just pro-Europeanism.
- Positive Discrimination: This was the big shocker for me - Clegg endorsed positive discrimination if the Liberal Democrats don't recruit more ethnic minority candidates to elected positions. This is so wrong, I was honestly left openmouthed at the prospect. To replace one evil with another hardly does diversity any favours and will probably serve to alienate more people than it integrates. Thankfully, Huhne did not repeat this pledge.
Departures and Final Thoughts
I said to myself that the London leadership hustings would be the point when I would decide which candidate to vote, although I have to say I'm not particularly stark raving mad for either of them. They would both make excellent leaders, but this time I'm going for Clegg. He has impressed me throughout the campaign, he hasn't resorted to smearing his opponent (although he lost Brownie points for crying about it) and I think he is the one best place to articulate our values to those who previously haven't voted for us - Chris Huhne seems more interested in being "radical" and leading a "revolution", language I'm confident will alienate a lot of our potential supporters. The only thing that worries me about Clegg are his view on positive discrimination, but hey, the rate we're going through leaders at the moment, he won't be in charge come two elections time.