Grey today, gold tomorrow

Friday, January 13th, 2006

I'm working from home today – a real delight after a pretty grim journey on the Tube yesterday. But I can't believe how cold and gloomy it is. Midday and I've got the light on, even though I'm next to a window, and a fan heater blowing.

Tomorrow should be interesting – we're going to the Lib Dem “Meeting the Challenge” conference / workshop, which was supposed to be a big get-together to discuss the philosophical underpinnings of party policy and to re-examine whether we were going in the right direction. Of course, it will now become a beauty parade of the leadership contenders.

Four so far, and easily the most interesting is Chris Huhne. An ex-MEP and one of about half a dozen of the 2005 intake of new MPs talked about as a possible future leader, he obviously feared disappearing into obscurity if the party sailed serenely into a future where Ming Campbell became leader with Nick Clegg standing at his shoulder waiting for his turn next.

I won't say Huhne has got a chance, but all bets seem to be off following Ming's stumble at PMQs earlier this week. Right now the candidate I wouldn't want to be is Mark Oaten – the modernisers who make up his natural constituency are either rallying to Ming or standing themselves (will others like Clegg and Ed Davey break ranks and join Huhne as candidates?) Consequently Oaten may find himself making an abrupt transition from 'man of the future' to 'yesterday's man' without getting to experience the fun bit in the middle.

The Birmingham MP John Hemming is showing signs of cold feet in his slightly baffling bid to stand – but not because he's thinking better of it, merely because he's not sure the party still needs him to take on the onerous burden of leadership now that several candidates have come forward to share the responsibility of ensuring a contested election. His blog posts on his campaign prospects have been full of unintentional humour – but when all's said and done he is at least prepared to put his money where his mouth is.

In the middle of all this jockeying for position, Simon Hughes is busy being himself. Good old Simon – even if he does with each passing year increasingly resemble the sort of mad vicar you cross the road to avoid, you always know where you are with him. And where you are is usually either a) waiting for him to turn up an hour late or b) pinned in a corner at a party by him while he talks at length at you and possibly threatens to sing a song. But you've got to love him – the liberal conscience of the front bench and Parliament's most hard-working constituency MP. Also the bookie's favourite following the implosion of the Mingster.

As things stand, I'm still planning a write-in vote / spoiled paper for Kennedy. But I'll keep an open mind tomorrow, and if more new names join the candidate list then who knows?

EDIT: Hemming has decided not to stand. This time. It's a wise decision that means he gets the credit for being prepared to stop a coronation, without the derision that would have followed a crushing defeat. Astonishingly, he even manages to come out of it looking a bit statesmanlike.

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.