Sunday, 5 February 2006

The Leeds Leadership Hustings

Posted by Chris

What a superb event the Leeds Hustings turned out to be. Going out at the end reminded me of my days following the crowd out of Elland Road - the room was so packed.

I found myself sitting next to the legendary John Smithson, as the only seat left was next to the Chair's bench. It also gave me a good view of the Candidates and I was able to see who was speaking from the heart and who was reading from a script.

As I looked around the room it was amazing to see so many well dressed, intelligent looking people. It is so different from the days when I lived in that part of Yorkshire, though I suppose we got quite a few people at public meetings in Harrogate in the early seventies. I thought of the day I persuaded Steve Galloway to travel all the way from York, to speak at a by-election meeting near Whitby, only to find that one man and his dog, plus the Labour Candidate were all that turned up.

A huge round of applause greeted all three candidates and the each got an equally loud round every time they spoke.

Simon Hughes, I noticed, was clearly speaking from the heart. The scrap of paper in front of him had no more than about five words on it and he was word perfect. How do they do it?

Chris Huhne had a little note book and was turning the pages as he spoke. Ming Campbell had a written script but it was clear that neither of them had read it verbatim.

Simon again said all the things I want to hear. Chris relied too heavily, once again, on his previous career as a journalist, clearly to make up for the lack of country-wide campaign experience.

"I am pleased to be back in Leeds said Simon" with the air of a man who clearly had campaigned there before. He then went on to list all the places in the north east and the West Riding of Yorkshire, that had elections this year, and pointed out that he had helped in all those areas.

"I am pleased to be back in Leeds said Chris" who then pointed out he had visited the city several times when his eldest step daughter was at University.

Ming made an excellent speech and really does look statesmanlike, particularly when you are watching side on, like I was. He also injects just the right amount of wit, to keep you awake and interested.

The questions, according to his Lordship, William Wallace, the Chair, were going to test the Candidates but they only picked out tame ones and it was less challenging for them than a secondary school forum.

At one stage, in my frustration I muttered to John Smithson, who had kindly let my grand daughter, five years old Charlotte, sit in his seat until the meeting started, "can't you give them some difficult questions?" Perhaps I was only being selfish because there was no sign of my question about the continuing anonymous briefings.

Charlotte was confused looking at a picture of Ming, without his glasses on and did not believe it was the same man who was wearing glasses. I am afraid she also made a derogatory reference to his "bally" head. She also put her hand up, school girl like, when the Chair mentioned questions. A star for the future may be.

I thought they all did well. Ming was impressive and I rated him above Chris on this day. I have now committed myself to Simon as my No 1 and he did not disappoint me.

It was an excellent day for Liberal Democrats in our area. I am sure everyone went away motivated and happy.

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