It has not been an easy decision this time. I like, and respect, both candidates, and have had the pleasure of spending quality time with them in the past. They are both highly intelligent, genuinely liberal and equally capable of taking it to a Labour government which confuses pandering to the Daily Mail with genuine leadership.
I proudly supported Chris last time, as the one candidate who, I believed, could take the Party forward with vigour, passion, intelligence and a sense of liberalism which would appeal to mainstream British opinion without selling out on our core principles. I thought that I was right to do so then, and nothing that has happened since has changed my view that my stance was the right one.
I have had dealings with Nick in the past, firstly as his Returning Officer in 1998, then in the occasional social gathering earlier this year as he raised his profile at various Local Party events. He always provided good entertainment, as well as intellectual food for thought, and I admit to having been impressed by the enthusiasm and good sense he brought to the debate. He also has the ability to convey quite complex messages in seemingly easy to comprehend ways, something that is essential in reaching out to the wider electorate.
In terms of their performance as front bench spokespersons, they have both been adroit in getting media coverage, and have led on campaigns that look fresh and distinctive in areas that are central in the public consciousness, so little to choose there. They are also both genuinely nice people to deal with. I do not hold a key position in the party machine, yet both of them have treated me with respect and courtesy on those occasions where our paths have crossed.
However, you have to make a decision eventually, and so I’ve decided to plump for Nick over Chris. My view is that we do have to reach beyond our current base of support, and Nick seems better equipped to do so. Chris comes over as somewhat ‘fact-heavy’ from time to time, a style which will win votes at Federal Conference but not necessarily on GMTV, and I am concerned that his apparent move towards negative campaigning tarnishes him and those advising him. We need to put forward an honest, yet positive, message in an era of cynicism and Nick can, I believe, do that.
That said, whatever the outcome, the Party cannot afford to waste the undoubted talent that Chris has. His undoubted mastery of economics, and the impact that markets have on the lives of individuals, makes him essential to the continued development of our policy and credibility in the areas of tax and the wider economy. He would make an exceptional Shadow Chancellor, although it must be said that we have an abundance of talent in that area already – Cable, Huhne and Laws against Darling and Osborne makes me salivate just thinking of the carnage they could wreak.
If Chris does want to take any consolation from my decision though, he might like to know that my choices in the past three leadership contests were Alan Beith, David Rendel and Chris. Perhaps that’s why I’m a bureaucrat and not a campaigner…