The likely lads

Ming’s departure came out of the blue. A week is meant to be a long time in politics – but for goodness sake – this was only a Monday afternoon. It was around 1pm when I meandered over to Nick Clegg and Vince Cable in Portcullis House to ask what was going on and why we were all being inundated with media calls. They knew nothing. But by 6.30pm Ming was gone.

I think he must have been sick of it all – the slings and arrows of criticism had been relentless since his first outing at PMQs – and with Brown wimping out of the election that never was, Ming clearly decided that he could not and would not be able to staunch the flow of negative coverage and wanted to stop the damage to the Party. So he nobly (as you would expect from someone of Ming’s integrity) fell on his sword.

And now the race is joined between two who would be king – Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg. So with two excellent candidates contesting the leadership – the LibDems are in a win / win position whichever succeeds and have an opportunity not only to showcase our wares – but also to fight and forge in the heat of battle – the way forward. And you know, it’s all very well these boys all wanting to be leader – but it is what you do with leadership that counts.

I’m the Chair of Chris Huhne’s campaign – so obviously I’m biased as to which candidate should win the day. And I am whispering in his ear. Stand up for things that we believe in. Dare to be radical. Don’t join in this swamp of political whoring currently favoured by Labour and Tories who are willing to be anything they think the people want them to be.The last think the country needs is another party offering the same old, same old.

We need a leader not a follower – a leader with the guts to take our Party to new heights and new territory as we challenge the status quo and the busted flush of British politics – the deadly duopoly that is undermining life in Britain today.

The rules of the game have got to change! If we don’t bring back substance to politics -then we are all doomed to ever-decreasing circles. The ghastly, rude, adversarial, rubbish, bully-boy politics that characterises our political conduct is not only distasteful – but is gradually denigrating our trade to the gutter.

And if we really want to rattle the cage of British politics, then we need someone brave, radical, clever, willing to be dangerous and different – someone who will really upset and challenge the vomit-worthy consensus now devouring any remaining difference between Labour and the Tories – a converging and unedifying coalition – where vote-catching, bargain basement offers are the name of the political game. And where beliefs and values don’t mean a thing. I don’t want us to join in that game. The last thing we Lib Dems need now is to join the “say anything to get votes” agenda, which has seen huge poll swings and insane volatility. We have to be the ones standing up to that consensus.

So – leadership is a tough old job, as Brown, Cameron and Campbell have all found. You need to be made of steel, thick of skin (thick enough but not impervious), and firm of spirit to take it on. Chris is tough enough, experienced enough and world-tested enough to take on and beat Brown – even on his old stomping ground of the economy. Chris is a real contrast to the Cameron-Blair style of operation, which is a bonus in my view. And he is saying the things I want to hear about radicalism, equality and fairness.

More than anything, I believe that Britain is fundamentally a liberal country. That’s why “illiberal” is a term of insult here. We need a liberal party to challenge the authoritarian consensus of the two main parties and the political establishment.

Chris is the man who can!

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2007