James Forsyth

The real winners of the Lib Dem leadership contest…The Tories

The real winners of the Lib Dem leadership contest…The Tories
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When Ming Campbell was hurried into retirement by his Lib Dem colleagues, the general consensus was that it was bad news for the Tories. Before Ming’s departure, senior Tories joked that they were members of the preserve Ming society. There was a real worry among Tory supporters that Nick Clegg could emerge as an attractive alternative to David Cameron and eat into their support both winning back Lib Dem switchers and becoming a stopping off point for disillusioned Labour voters.

The good news for the Tories is that even if Clegg does win on Tuesday, he’ll leave the leadership race with little to no momentum. A press that was generally enthusiastic about him has soured on him during his lacklustre campaign. While Vince Cable’s wonderful cameos at PMQs has set the bar high for Clegg who doesn’t seem cut out for the bear-pit atmosphere of the Commons at Wednesday lunchtime. A few poor PMQs performances and Clegg could find himself being written off before you can say single transferable vote.

Another consolation for the Tories is that the Lib Dems still won’t be able to get their most talented team on the field under their new leader. Press reports over the weekend suggested that while Charlie Kennedy was prepared to become more active, he still wasn’t ready to take on a full time job. While Paddy Ashdown is expected to head off to Afghanistan to head up the reconstruction effort. A Lib Dem shadow cabinet with Kennedy at Home, Ashdown at Foreign and Cable as Shadow Chancellor would have been equal of the top three of both the two main parties. Instead, the smallest party will have to make do without two of its top talents.

Clegg or Huhne will be more formidable opponents for the Tories than Campbell. But they’ll be entering in unpromising circumstances and with the Tories at 45% in the polls. In short, the weeks following Ming's departure have gone as well as the Tories could have hoped.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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