'The party members expected me and Menzies Campbell to contest it and they wanted to have that choice.'Rightly, he pointed out that Huhne has a wafer-thin majority between him and the Tories, so a Huhne leadership would require committing massive resources to defending the leader, rather than fighting to gain seats. Even Huhne's focus on the environment came in for criticism, as Hughes asserted two decades of campaiging on the issue and described Huhne's green taxation proposals as 'callous.'
Ming didn't escape though - Hughes asked if the members wanted 'a leader for this parliament and this generation or a caretaker.'
It has to be said, Hughes is starting to look desperate and today's YouGov poll shows why. The race appears to be too close to call, with a sample of 401 LDs reporting that 32% back Huhne, 29% want Campbell and 23% are in favour of Hughes. The decision looks likely to be taken by the 16% undecided (excluding them, the figures are 38/34/27 respectively) and there is a tendency for undecided electors to break for the challenger, which might enhance Huhne's chances. The health warning on this poll is the margin of error, which effectively makes Huhne and Campbell level pegging - but however you slice this, it doesn't look good for Simon Hughes. Judging by the poll, attacking Huhne on his inexperience and green taxation policies and Campbell on his age won't curry much favour, as half the membership didn't regard age and inexperience as a problem for the candidates and three-quarters back increased taxation on petrol and airline flights.
Campbell can take some hope from the poll - the members see him as looking like a leader (always an important issue), as almost half the membership see him as having the experience necessary to do the job and qualified to be a government minister. He falls down on appealing to young voters and to women, but his age isn't a significant issue. Meanwhile, Hughes was seen as the least honest and the least effective potential minister, with a fairly even split on whether he is too unreliable to lead the party.
Looking at the second preference votes, if Huhne goes out in the first round, his votes seem to return to Ming, but the Hughes votes seem to be more evenly split, with Campbell having a slight edge over Huhne.
Rarely has so much depended on a Question Time performance. Tonight could be VERY interesting.