Having already made up my mind to vote for Clegg and posted my ballot paper, the risk in attending the London Hustings last night would have been to have witnessed an outstanding performance from Chris Huhne and realised I had made a terrible mistake. This did not happen. But my verdict was of very strong performances from both candidates.
I thought that Clegg gave clearly the better set piece speech. Huhne’s speech was delivered with strength and clarity. However, the content was a run through of the themes he has pushed throughout this campaign, which I have already said haven’t been particularly inspiring for me. Clegg was better than I had seen him before. Both in content and presentation he showed a desire to connect with the audience. There was better story telling and a degree of passion and engagement that have been missing from a lot of his media appearances.
Their responses to the questions were more evenly matched. There was very little dodging of the questions from both of them. Questions were answered directly and intelligently. I found it interesting to notice that where there were waffly answers to a particular question, by and large, they both engaged in the waffle. On a number of occasions Huhne was able to give a response that seemed to push the buttons of the activist dominated audience. He may have just shaded it on the clapometer. However, Clegg was from time to time able to deploy a rather neat turn of phrase.
The big difference between the two for me was their responses to those questions which dealt with internal party matters. While there was nothing particularly wrong with Huhne’s answers to these, Clegg’s answers contained a degree of specific detail which suggested he had thought more about these issues. For someone who is concerned with proper party management this was a plus in Clegg’s favour.
There were two questions which stick out for me where they both fell down. The first of these was on the housing crisis, in particular the problem of key worker housing in London, which they both answered with an acknowledgement of the need for the greater supply of housing. However, they were both very vague about how this should be achieved. Perhaps it is not fair to criticise them for failing on this. It is an area which I believe the party as a whole has failed to properly get to grips with. But I was disappointed that the two leadership candidates didn’t have something more interesting to say.
The second was Gareth Epps‘ question about the nature of the Liberal Democrat core vote. They both missed what I took to be the point of Gareth’s question which was to raise the view expressed recently in various articles in Liberator and other places that the Liberal Democrats face a key strategic choice between being a party that looks for votes while trying not to offend anyone as opposed to a party that deliberate sets out to talk to and cultivate a liberal constituency, even at the risk of upsetting some people. Disappointingly both Clegg and Huhne missed the opportunity to engage with that debate.
Overall the London hustings event confirmed my existing views and left me feeling more comfortable with taking a risk on Clegg.
This content was originally posted on my old Process Guy blog.