The meeting got off to a great start as we were addressed by our 63rd MP Willie Rennie although the meeting got underway a little late as we were waiting for Simon Hughes!
All three candidates did a speech.
CAMPBELL– He made a reasonable speech, good on poverty and the war in Iraq but seemed weak on environmental issues. Score 7/10
HUGHES – He was very clear that there should be no move to the right on the public services. Talked about the connection between local control of services and democracy and the propensity to vote. Also talked about the need for a Bill of Rights and a written constitution all good stuff. He was also very strong on being anti nuclear energy and pro renewables. He was also supportive of the need for a higher tax rate and the need to take people out of tax at the lower end whilst tackling pensions and debt. He also stressed that we have to very aware that we do not become seen as the tax and spend party. Score 9/10
HUHNE – He was a bit questionable about Iraq. Very good section on public services and the need to devolve power and control. He was also very good on the need to reduce our Nuclear deterrent and that fact that when it came to replace Trident we need to ensure that we do not continue to fight the cold war. Score 8/10
After a break we moved on to a question and answer session
CAMPBELL - Came across as concerned on global warming but weak on specifics. Not keen on Huhnes policies and worried about the impact on electors in rural constituencies who rely on the Motor Car. Score 4/10
HUGHES – Came across as very strong on green energy and on the need to reduce our energy consumption Score 9/10
HUHNE – Address Campbells concerns on taxation very well I thought and stressed that the size of the problem meant that we could not let the rural tail wag the urban dog. We had to be aware of these issues and find ways to ameliorate the problem but that should not stop us from going forward Score 8/10
CAMPBELL – Key issues were to ensure that there was no selection and to oppose any privatisation of the schools system. Early Years education was vital and we should continue to be opposed to Tuition Fees. Score 6/10
HUGHES – A common admission systems was vital. We should stop legislating so much as it half of the problem. It is far more critical to have a good well trained head teacher and staff. We should introduce a power of general competence for local councils. It is also important to ensure that school buildings were used as a genuine community resource was also a priority. He was also very strong on the need to support and fund the Youth Service and appropriate facilities. Score 8/10
HUHNE - It was vital that we supported Comprehensive education. This must be under local control. Schools should not be allowed to select their pupils. It was also important to open up avenues of a more practical nature for kids who are not engaged by the academic side. Score 7/10
CAMPBELL – Concerned about the differential in life expectancy – in fact where he comes from has the lowest life expectancy in the UK!. Getting rid of VAT on renovations of properties would help people to live in healthier conditions. Local education authorities should stop selling off playing fields. Score 5/10
HUGHES – Equality of Income and wealth was very important as this tended to lead to three things. 1.Greater equality of health. 2. Greater equality of educational opportunities. 3. Lower levels of crime and disorder. The balance between provision of acute services and education / prevention needed to be addressed and shifted towards prevention. Information on health issues needed to be provided to the general public in more easily understandable forms such as “five pieces of fruit and veg per day” Score 8/10
HUHNE – Preventative medicine was very important – but that seems to be where cuts strike first Score 3/10
CAMPBELL – Supported the 50p top rate. But it was important for everyone to remember that party conference makes such decisions. The purpose of taxation should always be defined and we did not want to talk up taxation issues too much. “Careless talk costs votes” Local income tax was very important but we needed to explain it better. Score 6/10
HUGHES – We need to be robust about our own policies. It was important that the tax commission has as wide a remit as possible. We need fairer taxes not higher taxes although we should consider windfall taxes in some areas. Example was windfall increase in land values due to the Jubilee line in London. There should be a higher rate of tax above 40p but the exact rate and where it cuts in should be decided nearer to the next general election. Presentation of Local Income Tax at the last general election was poor and across the board we need to look at the way we target and present our message to different groups so that it is understandable. Score 7/10
HUHNE – Capping of pension relief would be a different way of taxing high earners as an alternative to a higher tax rate. High rates of marginal tax for those coming off benefits etc is a real issue. He would use the income from further green taxes to take the poorest out of the tax system altogether. Those on a minimum wags should not be paying tax. Score 8/10
CAMPBELL - Why does he keep saying things that make me not want to vote for him? He will not connect with people if he continues to talk as if he is from a bygone era by referring to “The Motor Car” etc. His reference to party conference (whilst true) came across as a bit of I don’t know how to answer this one so I will defer to the members. On his good issues such as International affairs he is very good but on other topics he comes across as someone who is a bit behind the times. I have also been concerned that his large number of MP’s is in part explained by those who have an interest in having another leadership contest five years down the road. This has two problems. Firstly people may not be genuinely supporting him because they believe that he is the best candidate and secondly we are in danger of facing a Blair / Brown type situation where there are constant stories about when the next leadership contest will be and who the contenders might be. For me I am sad to say that he has slipped to third choice.
HUGHES- Was the real surprise package for me. I had written him off altogether but (despite being late) he came across really well across a broad range of subjects and seemed the most passionate of the three. Maybe his long experience in parliament and the large range of portfolios which he has held has some benefit after all. Time keeping is clearly an issue and were he to become leader then someone will need to be appointed with a ruthless brief to keep him on schedule.
HUHNE – Clearly demonstrated that he is a real contender (as he did on Question Time) and is not just making up the numbers. On some areas such as the economy and taxation he comes across really well and if he doesn’t win the parliamentary party needs to make more use of his skills. The key question is whether or not with time, briefing and experience he can command respect over a wide range of topics.
So my current order is :
- Hughes or Huhne
- Hughes or Huhne
Tag Lib Dems