Tonight's Question Time debate between Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg is probably the only chance I'll have of seeing the two Lib Dem leadership candidates in action together and it's certainly helped me decide who I'm going to vote for. I decided to give the candidates marks out of 10 in each of 5 categories - vision, charisma, passion/forcefulness, grasp of detail and ability to deal with pressure to see if a clear winner emerged, which I think it has.
But first a review of the programme. On the first question, about the previous leaders, both gave very good answers, stressing the need for unity, with Clegg possibly the more passionate in his answer. However, I thought he struggled a bit with the supplementary question from Dimblebore, initially asking "Did I say that?", which is never a good thing to say as the answer is invariably: "Yes, you did." He then claimed that either it was a completely different context or he had forgotten the quote, which left me with the impression he was squirming. Huhne, meanwhile, was utterly solid.
Both answered the question about hung parliaments very well and I don't think there was an awful lot to choose between them. On Trident, which is clearly a point of difference between them, I thought Clegg came perilously close to distorting Huhne's position, seeming to say he wanted to spend lots of money on a new generation of nuclear weapons, whereas, as Huhne himself said, he is questioning whether a minimum deterrent is necessary and, if so, what form that deterrent should take. Personally I would like Huhne to come right out and say that nuclear weapons are utterly useless in today's world and that, with just 1% of the world's nuclear missiles, there is no way the UK can play any meaningful role in multilateral disarmament, so we might as well get rid of them anyway. I thought he gave a very good answer about Pakistan, while Nick gave a good analysis on Russia. Overall, though, I thought Chris had a slightly better grasp of world affairs than Nick.
On the tax cuts question, Huhne got the chance to set out the party's tax plans succinctly, whereas Nick didn't really get the chance to answer that one due to Dimblebore's intervention. The more interesting question was the next one, about which one was which. Clegg at first stressed how similar they were, which I thought was a slight mistake, as it gave Chris the chance to stress his background and the way he'll be able to take on Gordon Brown in the economic field. Nick responded about the passions that brought him into politics, which was very effective, but in the follow-up on education I thought Chris gave a very good answer, stressing the need for people to be enthused by learning.
The question about young people they both answered very well. On the Cameron question, I thought Clegg gave a very good answer, stressing the gulf of difference between his approach and Cameron's. Huhne, meanwhile, had his one weak moment of the night, giving us the Reagan quote on experience which was so beloved by Ming - I swear if I hear it again, I'll scream. And finally, the question on the other candidate's good qualities was a fitting note to finish on.
Overall, then, what is my verdict? Firstly, I'll be happy with whichever of them becomes leader, as both demonstrated that they have very considerable talent. However, I felt there was one of them who had the edge, who showed he can provide a liberal vision with passion, who is calm under pressure, has a solip grasp of detail and will be a feisty campaigner against our opponents.
My scores on the doors were: Vision - Clegg 7, Huhne 8; Detail - Clegg 8, Huhne 9; Charisma - Clegg 8, Huhne 7; Passion/forcefulness - Clegg 7, Huhne 8; Pressure - Clegg 6, Huhne 9. Totals: Clegg 36, Huhne 41.
I shall therefore be voting for Chris Huhne in the leadership election.
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