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18 October 2007

Why I asked Chris Huhne to run

Lynne Featherstone explains why she thinks Chris Huhne is the right man to lead the Lib Dems - and w

By Lynne Featherstone

Ming nobly fell on his sword – having recognised that the attacks on him were not going to stop, he was not going to be able to turn it round and it was hurting the Party. Right decision in my view. Respect!

So now – opportunity knocks – again! After we despatched Charles last time – the establishment moved quickly behind Ming’s candidacy.

Well – I don’t do establishment. I think things through. And despite the knowledge that Ming would almost certainly win – as he was known and revered in the Party – I didn’t believe that Ming was right to lead the Party and therefore telephoned both Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg to ask them to run. Albeit they were new to Parliament – they had both been MEPs which I thought would give them enough credibility to run.

Chris said yes! Nick said no. And whilst I think the world of both of them – for me – that made Chris the one to choose. And nineteen months on – that bravery, courage and judgement first time round win my support again.

So why Chris? Then it’s taking brave decisions and not playing safe – which is something the Liberal Democrats should be born for.

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It’s having someone who can take on Brown on his own territory of the economy and get the better of him.

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It’s having someone who has been in the real world running things. It’s having a person who sets the agenda – as Chris did last time out – when he made the environment central with the ‘big idea’ of switching taxation from good things like earnings to bad things like pollution – immediately jumped on by the other contenders and now party policy.

It’s having someone who isn’t like Cameron or Blair. It’s working with someone who uses Parliamentary colleagues as his advisers and listens to them – and follows their advice. It’s having a real influence on the ideas and therefore influencing the future direction of the Party.

And Chris is saying the things I want to hear about radicalism, equality and fairness.

In his declaration Chris said: “I am reiterating my commitment to lead a Party that is radical; green; honest and angry about the gross unfairness in Britain.”

That’s the agenda I want for our party and Chris is the guy who can sell it and deliver it.

The one thing our Party needs like a hole in the head, in my view, is to become part of the cosy consensus that both Labour and Tory indulge in.

There is little underpinning either of them any more in terms of real values and beliefs – so their policy pronouncements appear to be based only on vote catching and that is why, in my view, we have seen the overwhelming volatility in the polls that can swing so dramatically and so quickly.

The people have nothing to believe in any more – only bargain basement offers from political parties selling their wares to attract at lower prices. That is why policy nicking is even possible.

So – I asked Chris to run – again! He has, in my view, the potential to be a great leader not a follower and to take the Liberal Democrats where they bravely need to go – which is to a liberal future. Britain is a liberal country (that’s why ‘illiberal’ is a term of insult in the UK) – and we need a liberal party to challenge the authoritarian consensus of the two main parties – and of the political establishment.

I fear that the establishment will once again move in one direction – and that won’t be behind Chris. But hey – as I said – I don’t do establishment – and look what happened last time!