Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Clash of the titans?

So was it any surprise really? With a comprehensive 71% of the returned ballots, Simon Hughes is the new president of the Lib Dems. Was Lembit anywhere near?

I think I can admit to having voted for Simon. But I was almost torn. I really was.

In almost all circumstances I would have voted for Simon - he was the first to give me a job in Parliament (alright, it was slave labour, doing the filing and in any case it was his then chief of staff, the great tell-it-like-it-is Graeme Salt who really invited me in) and I helped him during his 1997 election campaign in Southwark. He was one of the few MPs to remember me and take time out to talk. And when I became a GLA candidate he was enthusiastic and spent a lot of time with us in East London which was hardly obvious target territory, it must be said).

And I don't hold with some of the murmurs that Simon ran a weak campaign in June, that he didn't pull his weight, that his failure to beat Norris showed up deficiencies in his leadership.

He was doing what he's always has done, campaigning on the doorstep, talking to people in the street.

But having said that, Lembit almost seduced me away.

His was the fancier, glitzier campaign. He seemed to really want the president's post; some of the answers he gave to different internal Lib Dem groups suggested he had thought about what the president could do. By contrast Simon's comments and responses seemed a little tired, a bit too woolly and unfocused.

But one thing held me back from marking Lembit: his ambition. It was the last edition of Liberator which did it. Both candidates were asked whether they were using the position of president as a platform to party leader. And although he didn't admit it, it seemed obvious (to me at any rate!) that Lembit saw it as just that. More dialogue with non-traditional media was his proposal to reach out to the wider electorate.

Now where have I heard that before? Oh yes, our Dear Leader, CK (to give him his current nom-de-fragrance) who was once party president before beating Hughesy to the leader's post five years ago.

And suddenly I woke up and berated myself. How could I have almost fallen for Lembit? No, it won't happen again.

Of course that's not to say Simon isn't without ambition. I'm sure he wants the ultimate prize (insofar as being Lib Dem leader is that) one day. But I got taken in by a media luvvie once before (no, I'm not going to say who), and I lived to regret it.

But that doesn't mean Simon's going to get a free run from me. By no means. I hope he will take some of the concerns and ideas from Lembit's bid and run with them - not least how to engage with our grass roots and councillor base. I voted for him although I wasn't sure his ideas were the freshest. But I'm giving him another chance. And I hope he'll make a success of it.

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