Monday, January 14, 2008

How the Lib Dem leadership contest almost turned into a bloodbath

The current issue of the House Magazine has an article on the challenges facing Nick Clegg, written by Greg Hurst.

More striking, however, are Hurst's claims about the tensions behind the scenes during the recent leadership contest. Writing of the tension between Nick and Chris Huhne, Hurst says:

Things could have been still worse. Sir Menzies, who blamed Huhne henchmen for undermining his leadership and hastening his departure, had to be restrained from launching a public attack upon him during the election. We must await the publication of his memoirs to judge Sir Menzies' determination to settle such scores.

Similarly, Charles Kennedy remains aggrieved at the role played by some younger MPs in forcing his resignation and seizing control of the party by backing Sir Menzies and then Nick Clegg. Several close Kennedy allies threw themselves into Chris Huhne's campaign in the hope of wrestling back the leadership from the "Orange Book" upstarts.

There was, briefly, a real prospect of the two ex-leaders turning on the rival candidates; in the event, threatened with the mutually assured destruction of the Lib Dems' remaining credibility. a Cold War-like stand-off was achieved.

I don't know how much truth there is in all this, but I do know that Chris Huhne's attempt to draw Nick Clegg out on his beliefs on public services was entirely legitimate. The fuss over the headline "Calamity Clegg" should not blind us to this.

Given how well Nick's speech at the weekend has gone down with the press and the party (to judge by Lib Dem bloggers, at least), he would have done better to be more forthcoming on what he had in mind as leader.

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