Does a leadership election hone up the candidates’ campaigning skills?
Just looking back at how the Lib Dem hopefuls, Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne, performed on Sunday’s Andrew Marr show it struck me what a good training ground for a general election running for the leader of your party is.
The normal political dialogue outside election times does not provide the opportunities for the kind of exposure and probing that a leadership election demands and those who have been through the process, whether finishing as a winner or a loser, come out better at the end.
For they have to deal with personal questions and be expected to make instant statements articulating what their values are and why they should be supported. All the time they have to be conscious of how their presentation style and what they are saying is going down with the people whose votes they are seeking.
If Gordon had gone through a similar process last May-June I believe that he would have gained enormously and would have been better equipped to campaign for a Labour fourth term. Also the issue of what his vision was and where he stands would have been put to the test then.
In addition a contest would have brought one or two Labour front-benchers to the fore and given them experience and public recognition that could have been very helpful at the general election. Labour’s deputy election hardly caused a ripple and who has heard much of the winner since?
The Tories made the same mistake with the Michael Howard coronation in 2003. Contests are good for the party and for the development of individual politicians.
As for the Lib Dem race some of my earlier doubts about Nick Clegg are starting to melt away. Both him and Huhne look good and are probably as effective communicators as anybody in Brown’s cabinet. In spite of the current polls that bodes well for the party in an election campaign.
I think that Clegg is probably going to do it but Huhne’s campaign experience might result in the margin not being as great as the current betting odds suggest.