Thursday, January 12, 2006

Chris Huhne could be the best move

I sold my chess books when I hung up my pawns a few years ago. But the news today that Chris Huhne is to stand for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats reminds me of Kotov's Think Like a Grandmaster.

In it the Russian chess trainer describes how a lot of players think. It is your turn and you can see two plausible moves. You analyse one for a while, but not everything is clear. You try the other and it also leads to positions you find hard to assess. So you go back to the first move and analyse it all over again hoping you will see something you missed first time.

You go on like this for a while, switching between the two moves, and at the end of it you are not really happy with either. You are also becoming increasingly aware that your time is ticking away.

Suddenly you see a third possibility. It looks attractive. You analyse it quickly and it seems to work. Feeling a lot happier, you play the move... only to realise it is a blunder as soon as your fingers leave the piece.

I have been wondering whether Chris Huhne is the equivalent of such a move. Neither Ming Campbell nor Simon Hughes seems quite what we want, however hard we consider them. Suddenly there is a third possibility - I exclude Mark Oaten for the purpose of this analogy - and it looks attractive. But will Chris Huhne turn out to be a blunder if we choose him?

I do not think he will. He is personable, economically literate, chaired the group which produced the best party policy document for years, wrote an essay in the Orange Book yet has impeccable green credentials. Hell, he even has hair.

The only argument I have seen raised against Chris Huhne is that he has a very small majority and would be tied down in Eastleigh at the next election.

But, as we have learned to our cost, party leaders almost never lose their seats. If the Tories want to throw everything at Huhne there are plenty of vulnerable Lib Dem seats and Lib Dem targets in the South of England that would benefit from a fruitless diversion of Tory resources.

As Nick Clegg seems determined not to stand, Chris Huhne could be our best move in this position.

10 comments:

Chris Black said...

Good analogy.

I'm very pleased that Huhne is standing.

Iain said...

The only problem is that Huhne is young enough to 'bed block' Clegg after the next election. Is it better to have Ming for one election then Clegg take over or Huhne for two but with Clegg not gettin it until he is about 50?

Pop out and buy a new chess set Jonathan and work this one out for us, please.

James said...

Iain, with all due respect, that is the single worst argument I've ever heard!

a) There is no way 50 is too old for Clegg to stand, certainly as you seem to agree that Huhne right now (50) is a realistic prospect.

b) For Huhne to serve 10 years, he'd have to be a very successful leader indeed. So what you're saying is, we shouldn't vote for him because someone who might, possibly (but might not) be even better will be blocked while Huhne is leading us from success to success.

(on the other hand, if Huhne is a failure, he won't be "bed blocking" after the next GE)

c) You should never, ever decide who is best to lead on the basis of who you want afterwards. The next General Election is an eternity away. Nick Clegg could go under a bus next month. Worse, he could go bald (joke!)!

I don't want to spend the next five years waiting for Nick Clegg, even though I think he would be superb. History may record him as being the best leader we never had. On the other hand, an MP that gets quietly elected in 2008 may end up the first Lib Dem Prime Minister.

Let the future take care of itself (says the green liberal).

Gothamimage said...

Hard to tell from over here what to think. Speaking of chess, we have an exchange posted, that is basically the oppposite of chess, but you may be interested in what "Hitchens" 'says' if not the other comments exchanged. Just for laughs.

Aidan Brack said...

I don't really know enough about Huhne though I'm trying to brush up my knowledge of him a little. The problem as I see it is simply one of political destination - are there any more pickings to be won by moving to the right or should the Lib Dems try to stand out by shifting leftwards slightly?

I believe that there is a need for an independent identity and I'm not sure we can assert it on the right of our party (though we could have done so prior to Cameron) - it therefore makes sense to either keep our current positioning and hope for the best or move leftwards and risk losing some seats on our right to gain on our left.

Greg said...

I don't have any doubt that Huhne is the only (declared) candidate that the Tories should fear. He will take on Cameron on his chosen ground and do so from a position of credibility, rather than crude political positioning. And the activists would probably be broadly comfortable with it, unlike many Tories.

The fact that (reading many blogs) many Tory posters seem to be highlighting his "pro-Europeanism" as a (the?) reason why they do not fear him shows how little many of them learnt from the 2001 election. Cameron will not want to get involved in a battle on Europe in a million years.

Having established that Huhne is the candidate the Tories should fear is, however, not the whole story. It may be that there is equally fruitful ground on the Labour left to take advantage of a disintegrating Labour Party post Blair, and for that reason Hughes (or at least what he represents) may be the best short term candidate. But looking more widely - would the membership really want to give the Tories a route back to power? And the ground to be had on Labour's left may not actually equate to many seats.

Also I don't think the party's brightest talent would have much belief in such a strategy (however much the activists like it). The fact that people like Susan Kramer (from the archetypal LibDem/Con battleground) are backing Huhne is very telling.

yolly said...

I have nothing against Chris Who, but I would state again that the best possible reason to choose Hughes is that he will deliver the best election result of all the potential leaders later this year, as he is usually hugely popular with "ordinary" votes. (London mayoral election excluded, for specific reasons.) There is every chance we will be a minor player in Government if we do well at the next election. The stakes are huge - we need the best leader for THIS election, not some other one own the track!

Disgruntled Radical said...

Voting for Oaten would be like attempting Fool's Mate against a grandmaster.

Richard said...

Yolly, you're entitled to talk up your own candidate, but I don't think it's helpful to anyone in the party for you to go negative on Chris with silly name-calling!

Constance said...

I'm with Huhne! Without a doubt the most savvy choice in a world dominated by image and spin. Can't believe that youngsters - esp young LibDems - would choose an oldster in the hope he shuffles off his political coils in appropriate time for them to step in - there's looking to the interests of the party not!