Friday, March 03, 2006

Safe pair of hands blah blah

Back to the Future for the Liberal Democrats?

Expect to hear all and sundry telling you that Ming is a statesman, that he's a safe pair of hands, that he's respected by all, steady hand on the tiller, etc, etc. Loyal promises of support from all - even from Simon Hughes yesterday, whose fulsome praise rang a little hollow yesterday afternoon.

The Lib Dems have dodged the bullet and clung on to their usual fence-sitting position. Picking Hughes would have been a retrograde step and would have caused defections to the Tories by some of the more right-wing LDs. Selecting Huhne would have seen a number of activists leave the party in fear of a rightward shift - it would have been the most interesting choice, to be honest. Either would have allowed the party to define itself and map a future.

Instead, they've chosen the 'none of the above' candidate and have put off the political clash for a few years more. I doubt we'll see much in the way of policy change under Ming, unless it comes as part of a package to push the leadership claims of one of the new breed - be it Clegg, Teather or Huhne. The party still wants to be all things to all people - just as it backs the concept of road-pricing to reduce environmental damage, but campaigns against it on a local basis.

Huhne had an excellent campaign - he's raised his image within the party no end and has instantly become a big-hitter. When the next leadership election rolls around, he'll be well-placed and should be assured of a high-profile post in the meantime - but that narrow majority in his constituency may make him even more of a Tory target than before. Hughes didn't do well - to come third for somebody who was regarded as a front-runner and thought to have a huge power base within the activist voters is nothing short of disastrous. His leadership ambitions must now be over - the threat of the new boys and girls will be too much in the future - and the lies he told over his personal life won't go away. The less said about Oaten, the better. It seems that he'll be lucky to save his marriage, let alone his parliamentary seat next time round.

Campbell won't set the world on fire, nor will he inspire new voters to come to the party. The LDs are about to fall further behind the Tories and Labour. Their only real hope for continued success is that their finely-tuned by-election machine can keep the ball rolling.

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