The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
That Sky debate
by Peter

I haven't seen it yet - but here are a few thoughts from the newspapers and my mother.

The news concentrates on the silly story about the car (and I hope Ming keeps it - it is important that our leader looks as if he enjoys life and is not condemned to wearing a hair shirt. If he has to, voters will assume that they will have to if we win any influence. Then we're stuffed).

Oaten and Hughes both made errors in setting specific seat targets. From the Scotsman

Sir Menzies Campbell, the party's acting leader, followed Mr Kennedy's usual line by not specifying any target. "There is no glass ceiling for the party," he said. "We should aim to maximise our number of seats, maximise our votes."

Mr Hughes used that to jibe at his rival, declaring: "I'm clearer than that. If we're serious about this, we have to say to our members we ought to have 100 seats in parliament."

Mark Oaten, the party's home affairs spokesman and Mr Kennedy's preferred candidate, said the party should ultimately be aiming for 300 seats in the 645-seat House of Commons.

Supporters of Chris Huhne have assured me that his past pronouncements will not be used against him by his opponents. I hope they are right but the Times says this

Chris Huhne, only eight months an MP, has shown impressive boldness in standing, and the contest is better for his presence. However, it is hard to see why such a dogmatic pro-European would improve the party’s electoral chances.

while the BBC says of Ming's suggestion that he might give up his Jag that

The shock was so overwhelming that it almost completely overshadowed Mr Huhne's pledge to raise domestic fuel bills.

As for my mother (in her early seventies, and a habitual, but not committed Lib Dem voter), she told me that Mark Oaten was very good, Ming was good. Hughes seemed a nice young man (there's a "but" hanging in the air). And? And that's it. She hardly noticed the other fellow. Extrapolate wildly that her views are not wildly different from those of many semi-detached west of England members and you might think that Oaten is going to do much better than many super-activists and bloggers believe, and that Huhne is going to do much worse.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:08 am  
  • At 17 January, 2006 11:03, Anonymous Alex said…

    In the absence of new YouGov all-member polling, this is valuable evidence.

    Peter, can you assure us that you will bring us a 'Tracker' function as your mother reads more about the contest and is perhaps canvassed by any of the campaigns?

    The serious point here is that neither Huhne nor Oaten stand the foggiest chance, given lower name recognition among the bulk of the membership who are pretty detached from front-line and internal party politics.

  • At 17 January, 2006 11:42, Blogger Peter Pigeon said…

    I shall try my uncle next. He is more of a floating voter (votes Watson in the Euros, Tories for the GE, but admires a labour mp in a neighbouring seat).

    Or maybe phone around a few backwoodsmen.

    What I don't know is how many members are supporters of the kind I used to sign up in Wales and Devon, and how many people are broadsheet readers who have jonied of their own volition. Anyone got a handle on this?

  • At 17 January, 2006 12:18, Blogger James said…

    I don't think anyone is pretending that Chris doesn't have a mountain to climb. Personally I support him because he is shifting the campaign's policy debate (perceptively over the past three days). Also, given the far more civilised electoral system we Lib Dems use, one doesn't have to worry about tactical voting: if Chris doesn't get enough votes I don't reduce Ming's chances one bit by giving the former my first preference.

    And you're absolutely right: Oaten does have a higher profile than Chris. For this reason, any position better than fourth will be a victory for him. Contrariwise, any position worse than second will be a defeat for Oaten. There is a subtle contest for the soul of the party going on here as well as just the narrow matter of who wins.

    The front runners would be really foolish to underestimate the also-rans. They can't keep going into hustings being trounced by the "nobodies" - that does nothing to inspire confidence within either the activists (who do matter if you care about winning elections) or the media. The last thing Ming can afford is to win the contest with a "damaged goods" sticker on his forehead.

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