The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Came friendly lib dems
by Davd Langshaw

To Slough yesterday, for the Leadership Hustings. It started in the best way possible, with a rousing address from our favourite Lib Dem MP – yes, Willie Rennie flew down to Heathrow, just to come and speak to an ecstatic South Central Regional Conference. I can’t remember much of what he said, but who cares? We cheered, we shouted, we yelled, we laughed at the jokes and agreed with everything he might have said. Careful attention was paid to the three leadership candidates on the platform, to see that their fervour and enthusiasm for our new hero was suitably euphoric. The Chair (Dawn Davison, from the English Candidates Association) told us twice that we were not allowed to vote for Rennie as our first preference. By 9:45, he was off, back to Scotland, “Because he has a constituency to look after, you know!” said Dawn.

Then on with the main business of the day – three speeches from Ming, CH and SH (in that order, drawn by lot.) We were already running a bit late, because of the Surprise Guest and because Simon was late. Three good, competent speeches: Ming emphasised radicalism, CH majored on tax and green issues, and SH concentrated on the concept of “fairness” in Liberal Democratic thought.

The press were out in force, and in due course they were invited to leave before questions were asked. During the break, I asked a representative sample of 12 members (six men, six women, one ethic minority) what they thought of the speeches. I did not know any of them (except for one) and I emphasised that I did not want to know who they were going to vote for: I just asked them to mark the speeches out of 10. The average scores were Ming 7.08, CH 7.25 and SH 7.75. Someone gave CH a 10, and someone else gave SH 4, but they were the only outlying scores.

In my opinion, the questions showed the candidates in a better light. The questions (submitted in advance) were on the environment (the most popular subject), education, tax and transport. This gave the candidates the chance to extemporise; SH made better mini-speeches, CH answered the questions better, and Ming looked and sounded magisterial.

All candidates had their supporters present, handing out flyers and badges etc, but SH did not seem to have an entourage with him. I spoke to a couple of raddled and cynical party hacks at lunchtime (one of them a strictly neutral party employee) who both agreed that the three campaigns showed the need for the Party to employ competent campaigners, as all three of the Candidates’ campaigns were so poor.

There was a Lib Dem Image stall, selling badges and mugs for the three candidates; they had sold out of CH mugs, but it was thought that that was because CH’s office staff had bought one each, rather than popular demand.

The rest of the day was a bit flat. The training was worthwhile, some of the Party business was incomprehensible, but Neil Fawcett on the Campaign for the Local Elections was quite informative. (Apparently, the press coverage of the success or failure of our campaign in May will depend on the results in just 30 wards.) Then, after lunch, Tom Brake spoke on Transport and Vince Cable spoke on the policy Review. Vince came over very well, a lot of “presence” compared with Tom, who looked a bit tired.

Two other MP’s were present – Sandra Gidley talking to putative candidates in a fringe meeting, and Evan Harris in the audience. David Rendel was also there. I wonder, when was the last time that eight Lib Dem or Liberal MP’s were present in Slough at the same time? Changing trains on the way to Queen Victoria’s funeral, I reckon.

On the way out, some of us were given Focuses to deliver on the walk back to the railway station – the Slough Party used the occasion to get a target ward delivered in one day.

All in all, a day that recharged the batteries. Everyone seemed in good heart, all of the candidates seemed to be acceptable to the membership, with choices being made on the basis of personality rather than ideology. I did not change my mind, but I would be happy with any of the three of them as our next leader.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:50 pm  
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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.

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