I do not hold Nick Clegg responsible as head of Ming Campbell’s leadership campaign in 2006 for the false, and damaging, claim made by telephone canvassers that none of Chris Huhne’s former colleagues in the European Parliament were supporting the 2006 Huhne leadership bid. (In fact, three Lib Dem MEPs were supporting Huhne.) Equally, I do not hold Huhne responsible for the “Calamity Clegg” tag used in a briefing document sent out by someone in his team.
So let’s back to what’s important, which is this: the Tories must crush the Lib Dem vote if they are to regain power. In order to do that, they must destroy the Lib Dem leader. And they will do their darnedest to. They thought, rightly or wrongly, that they could do that while Ming Campbell remained leader; they even regarded his leadership as a Tory asset. The Tories are a ruthless power machine.
Therefore, we now need a leader who avoids pitfalls, is steady under fire, is, in a word, tough.
Which of the contenders fulfils that need? In TV interviews and hustings during the last few weeks, time after time, Huhne has remained cool under fire, while Clegg has not. This is no nine days’ wonder. I have observed Huhne from the sidelines for many years. He is always well briefed, always clear, always focused. He doesn’t make mistakes. He can be charming and persuasive, but can be lethal in debate.
Clegg is intelligent, charming and able. But he is not yet tough, or not tough enough. He is only 40 and he has not faced adversity. He is not ready to be leader.
Huhne is the heir. He knows the Lib Dems through and through and is the right man to lead us at this time. He should have won in 2006. I was right then, and I’m sure I am right now. Mark my words.