Sunday, November 11, 2007

Leadership Roadshow comes to Edinburgh

The Scottish Leadership hustings were held yesterday in the home of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the same room which housed the first 4 years' business of the Scottish Parliament. In such illustrious surroundings Nick and Chris treated us to an extremely high quality hour and a half.

I am unavowedly and unashamedly backing Nick and, if anything, his performance yesterday made me wonder why on earth I'd put myself through nearly 3 weeks of tortured angst. I should have gone with what I have always known about him from those early days in the East Midlands and backed him from the start. In the last week or so, all of my concerns about his stance on public services and social justice have been proved to be completely unfounded.

I think with him as leader we would soar as a Party. I think he understands the problems we are currently facing in this country, not just in an abstract way, but exactly how they affect real people. One of the key principles in my life is that you have to meet people where they are, and Nick used exactly that phrase. He clearly has the ability to do that, to reach out and bring people to us who have never voted Liberal Democrat before. We made modest progress between 97 and the beginning of last year and have taken a bit of a nosedive ever since.

Not only can he connect, but he can suggest innovative solutions - I like the idea that my child tax credit which, let's face it, is nice to find in my bank account every month but I don't really need, goes to pay for better education for the most deprived kids. I like the fact that he is prepared to risk prison to protect our civil liberties with his pledge on ID cards and I like his commitment to give more power to the people.

He talked, passionately and without notes, about how people feel powerless and are treated badly by both public and private sector organisations. He wants to make them feel that they can have an influence on issues like the priorities for their health services, their treatment by local and national authorities, on the sort of place they want their town to be. He spoke about how, when coming back from a long period working abroad, that every High Street looked the same. He wants to put the balance of power in favour of local communities rather than large multi-national corporations.

He talked about how the lives of many people are paralysed by fear of going out, for example. He was passionate about how the Labour and Tory approach, of pandering to these fears while not doing anything to make thing better, was anathema to him. He talked about the effectiveness of restorative justice and of his intense opposition to the demonisation of young people.

He had some good ideas about balancing growth and environmental sustainability. He was able to use his experience and extensive knowledge of trade negotiations (a subject on which he said he could bore for Britain, but mercifully spared us) to suggest a liberalisation of trade for environmentally sustainable products, and using international pressure to ensure that the whole world played its part in halting the effects of climate change.

Nick is not a politician who wants to isolate himself in the Westminster Bubble. He wants to get out there and meet people, to inspire, motivate and improve the standing of the Party so that we can actually have influence on people's lives in Government or even out of it. If his anti ID cards protest takes off, and we are able to get rid of these wasteful, ineffective and intrusive things, so much the better.

Chris was, I thought, much improved on last year. I felt that his speech had many more real life examples than last year when it had a few too many statistics and not enough soul. We clearly have two able competitors here. I'm not sure why he keeps feeling the need to say "we don't need another Tory Party" though. It's so blindingly obvious and there is no chance of our Party being corrupted in that way. We are and will remain distinctive and progressive.

I wasn't convinced by his view on Trident. There is actually no difference between Chris and Nick as far as I am concerned. A slight nuance here, a small variation there, ultimately it doesn't add up to what I want, which is for Britain to rid itself of these deeply immoral weapons.

When you think that Gordon Brown (and Scottish Labour leader Leader Wendy Alexander
for that matter) were elected unopposed, and the best that the Tories could come up with against Cameron was David Davis, we should actually be grateful that we have two people of such calibre contesting our leadership. Not only that but the Parliamentary Party has a wealth of talent within it - Julia Goldsworthy, Paul Holmes, Danny Alexander, Willie Rennie (who would be included even if he wasn't paying my wages). We will come out of this contest in better shape than we entered, it, that one thing is for sure.

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