Why Chris Huhne is unlikely to be the next Lib Dem leader

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 4 May 2011 in Diary
The energy secretary is a highly confident politician but his proximity to the Conservatives and the insecurity of his seat may send his party looking elsewhere for its next leader

The rest of this week is going to be all about the elections and referendum. The AV polls point to a No triumph, the Scottish and Wales campaigns aren’t going too well, and if they lose many councillors and control of key Northern councils, the Liberal Democrats will have a mini-crisis to deal with over the weekend.

How will the party cope with the ‘stress test’? And how will the most prominent Lib Dem cabinet minister of the week react?

Julian Astle of Centre Forum has written a very interesting post on the Telegraph about Chris Huhne and the wider relationship between the coalition partners. Astle may be correct in believing that Huhne’s strategy is more nuanced than simple leadership ambitions. When I spoke to him in the cover interview of our February issue he oozed confidence. Huhne is a man who feels he belongs on the biggest stage – for him that means around that cabinet table and not being afraid of throwing some barbed questions at the prime minister and chancellor.

As Joe Murphy on the Evening Standard’s new politics blog points out Huhne is booked for broadcast interviews on Friday morning and will continue to be a very public figure for the Lib Dems. But that also means he will be a very public figure representing the coalition. Earlier, I caught up with a senior Lib Dem MP that I spoke to for my magazine article. He told me today Huhne is still very much visible in the tearoom, remaining in close contact with the party. He also highlighted one key point if Nick Clegg fell or was pushed under the metaphorical bus:

“Chris Huhne played a key part in the coalition negotiations that led us into this government with the Tories. Any future leadership contest would take his closeness to the Conservatives into account just as much as Nick Clegg’s.”

Tim Farron’s distance from the coalition remains a crucial asset then.  

And that’s not regarding the fact Huhne represents a hyper-marginal seat. There are no guarantees he'll survive the next general election. The party in a position to deliver the knockout blow in Eastleigh? The Conservatives – the very political chancellor of the exchequer will be very aware of that available weapon.

Tags: AV referendum, Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrats, Local elections, Nick Clegg

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