Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Why Chris Huhne Should Run For Lib Dem Leader

Today's Daily Telegraph reports that Chris Huhne has five MPs willing to nominate him as leader. This is excellent news, and my immediate instinct is that Huhne would be an excellent candidate, whose campaign would highlight areas that other leaders would neglect. In particular, he would be a brilliant candidate to highlight environmental issues and establish a new green Liberalism.

If there's one issue that has turned voters off the Lib Dems, besides law and order, it must be economic policy. That's why Chris Huhne, a ruthlessly realistic economist of international standing, is so well-equipped to lead the party. Huhne will make sure that we can honestly prove how wewill pay for policy proposals, and show that 'prudence' and economic success have a new home.

On environmental issues, Huhne will be offering a distinctive focus. We desperately need a candidate to highlight this area of policy, and show how we need to make ourselves more vocal and distinctive in this area. Crucially, we must show that we're not just dipping into a corpus of "green methods", as a watered-down Green party, but actually developing green Liberalism, which uses liberal solutions to factor environmental externalities into individual decisions, rather than holding our noses for "Green" authoritarian and protectionist measures.

Most importantly, he seems the man who most closely meets me expectations of a leader who can end the left-right nonsense and find consistent, compassionate but fundamentally liberal policies. His work on Lib Dem public service policy- the Huhne report -is a case in point. There, he defended full public healthcare, but argued for a radical decentralisation of the NHS, so that local areas could respond free from Whitehall interference and with democratic management rather than quangos. That's an example of the proper compromise that liberals must naturally find between various competing freedoms.

Liberalism is naturally about balancing different freedoms and discerning which balance actually creates the greatest personal choice for individuals. A real liberal leader has to have that judgement, rather than pander to the extremes of social freedoms (which can create statist producerist services) or economic liberalism (which can create massive inequality of opportunity and ignore the need to create life chances). Chris Huhne has proved himself such a figure. While the other contenders would also do a good job, I would thoroughly welcome his entry in the race.

He would not be the bookie's favourite, but if he runs and falls, the debate within this party would be immeasurably better for it. And I wouldn't rule him out just yet. Huhne could well be the real deal.