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Saturday, 29 May 2010

It's Hughes v Farron

Veteran left-winger Simon Hughes has announced that he intends to stand for Deputy Leader. His campaign, which promotes Mr Hughes as "the life and soul of our party", has already focused on challenging Labour, ensuring Lib Dem ministers "never forget they are our representatives in government" and "remain[ing] effective as community champions now that our party is in government".

Essentially, the kind of thing we've come to expect from Simon Hughes.

The media are already referring to Mr Hughes as the favourite. If the election of deputy leader was opened up to the party membership I might concur with this. We are all aware of the huge contribution he has made to our party over the years, and of the various posts he has held with distinction. There's no mistaking his commitment to progressive social liberalism, or to community politics.

But in what is - so far - a straight fight between the veteran and the young visionary promising a break from the past, I'm not so sure the media are right in their predictions. Out of the 57 Lib Dem MPs, there are several new, young MPs who will no doubt be attracted to what Tim Farron has to offer, and may feel it's time for new blood. Others, who are more than aware of Hughes' history and his reputation for what I shall diplomatically call independent thought, may prefer a safer pair of hands.

And of course there is the issue of age. While we all respect Mr Hughes' experience, we also remember the treatment Menzies Campbell received as party leader. Given this, it's quite easy to see our MPs opting to go with the younger man.

I am pleased he is standing, because there is no question that he the talent, the gravitas and the vision to excel in this role. His instincts are to unite the party, to "keep it real", to engage with the grassroots and further community politics.

The same, however, could also be said of Tim Farron!

Interestingly, outgoing Deputy Leader Dr Vince Cable has endorsed Hughes' candidacy, saying: "Simon has given the most phenomenal service to the party over his 27 years as an MP. He represents the best traditions of the Liberal Democrats, both as a parliamentary campaigner and community activist. He is the person best placed to follow me as Deputy Leader, and to uphold the values of our party."

Hughes believes he has the support of 25 MPs, a few short of an overall majority.

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