Thursday, January 26, 2006

The race is on

Despite some unkind commentators comparing the race to three bald men fighting over a comb, we now know the runners and riders for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Started as the runaway favourite, but has slid back after a poor performance at Prime Minister's Questions. Will suffer from being fingered as one of the prime movers behind the Kennedy assassination. Surrounded by a group of young Orangistas who see him as the temporary leader and likely to be off within five years - whether through age, illness or defeat - to give one of the new bunch a chance to take over and head rightwards.

Simon Hughes: Has now assumed the lead - thanks to a huge popularity within the grass roots of the party, who are the ones who will decide this. Not popular within the parliamentary party and you should note that no other London LD MP or assembly member has come out to support him. Generally regarded as a left-winger within the party, so could hope to outflank Labour to the left, which will cost them votes in parts of the country and might pose a threat to some of Labour's heartlands. On the other hand, he might cause a schism within the party - Adrian Graves isn't the only one considering his options, no matter how the party might try and spin this. Probably won't be hurt by his outing within the party and I'd expect a fairly limited effect on the overall polling position - unless there's anything nastier to come out.

Chris Huhne: Still a dark horse and recognised by a whopping 3% of a Guardian/ICM sample. I've been ridiculed for backing him, but I still think he'd be the most interesting leader for the LDs and probably the choice they should make out of this bunch. He's very pro-Europe and his plans for heavier environmental taxes will certainly fire up the Tories.

All were comprehensively trounced when put up against a potential Brown/Cameron race, with the two expected major leaders hitting 42%/40% when they were considered as potential prime ministers. The Times/Populous poll found a similar problem for the three candidates, mirroring the Guardian findings, with only 41% recognising Ming and Huhne only being identified by 4% of the sample.

I'm not shifting on the winner - Hughes, but Huhne might come through yet.

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