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Sturgeon and Cameron need stronger opposition

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The dominance of one party is bad for everyone. As the leadership elections begin, with the Lib Dems tomorrow, don’t expect MPs to wait five years this time if the latest winners prove to be duds

The first time I saw Tim Farron speak in public I instantly realised that I was probably watching Nick Clegg’s most likely successor as the Liberal Democrats leader when they were safely back in the comfort zone of opposition again – a left leaning populist with the gift of the gab. If only Labour’s options were that simple.

I assume that Farron will win the leadership election tomorrow – a low key contest with Norman Lamb.

Loyal Clegg ally and gallant junior health minister in the continuing Jeremy Hunt era, he is thereby tainted with the crime of coalition which reduced the Lib Dems from 57 MPs to a mere eight on May 7.

‘The Lib Dems didn’t deserve quite the hammering they got on polling day’

Lamb fans tell me I’m wrong. I’d be delighted, but doubt it.

The Lib Dems didn’t deserve quite the hammering they got on polling day.

It was much worse than I had feared in May 2010 when Nick Clegg did the right thing by the country – providing stable government at a scary time – but sacrificed his party’s 25 years of steady progress.

As George Osborne’s Budget has just reminded us, Clegg had a calming effect on the Tories (not on the Lansley reforms, I concede). Thoughtful voters should have acknowledged it, but didn’t.

The ritual protest vote now goes to nastier or more hopeless parties.

Next Labour leader?

Ed Miliband led Labour more richly deserved its thumping, though the SNP factor – largely beyond its control – was important, costing Labour hope votes in Scotland and fear votes in England.

Nicola Sturgeon’s “solidarity with Greece” utterances were silly. At variance with her rhetoric, she’s much more centrist in practice, but it reinforces my suspicion that the SNP bubble will burst like Syriza’s in Greece.

But not yet. Intellectually and personally, Ed failed to connect. Nicola does.

‘Intellectually and personally, Ed failed to connect. Nicola does’

Labour’s new leadership candidates? Having both Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall in the final is a bit like buses: you wait for a serious health contender, then two come along at once. Is either the answer?

Is lovable leftwinger, Jeremy Corbyn? Is cautious Yvette Cooper?

I wish I could say yes to any of them, but I can’t.

As one Kendall ally puts it : “The exam question is ‘who can win it for us in 2020?’”

Cooper v Burnham

Liz is the only candidate not compromised by Blair/Brown era mistakes (only elected in 2010) and the only one brave enough to say unpopular things on party hustings, including praise Blair/Brown achievements, he says.

You may recall a speech she made in February – significant with hindsight – about the need for a more diverse NHS. She’s right: the 1948 state model must evolve or wither.

I’m told Kendall only decided to run after grasping the scale of Miliband’s defeat; though that February speech suggests she already nursed an ambition I had failed to detect.

At 44 she is the unknown quantity – the rest all defined figures – even if Burnham has backtracked on his NHS record and (bad habit) says different things to different audiences. I once heard Cooper sounding as passionate as Barbara Castle, but only once.

Either Cooper or Burnham remains most likely to win.

Northerners with working class credentials, that could be healthy if they can reconcile hacked off voters with changing times, a globalised world where the tech revolution creates huge opportunities (the NHS struggles to keep up with them), but devours jobs and leaves many behind.

Did someone say we face a twin crisis of obesity and food shortages? We can surely do better.

“Give people a chance, not a grievance,” as one MP puts it.

‘Both Sturgeon and Cameron need stronger opposition than they currently face’

Burnham is better equipped to embrace reform, but only if he can grow, acquire gravitas and be bolder than lately.

On Sunday he led three candidates (guess which?) in contradicting Harriet Harman over benefit caps. These are tricky judgments, it ain’t easy. Party elections make folk do daft things to win.

As for Kendall, she is still too inexperienced – spooked by hostility on the hustings when colleagues who should know better than to call her “a Tory” for defending free schools.

Labour may not like them (I think they’re a gimmick too), but it isn’t going to shut them up. It’s all come too soon for her. Premature over-promotion – the curse of Kinnock and Hague – is such a waste of talent.

Blairite Liz could thus come last on 12 September – a bad signal to voters unless you think the Corbyn/Syriza ticket is the future, which I don’t.

But one party dominance is bad for everyone.

Both Sturgeon at Holyrood and David Cameron in Westminster need stronger opposition than they currently face.

Unlike the unsentimental Tories, Labour is notoriously kind to its leaders, but there were high level efforts last autumn to install Alan Johnson.

Don’t expect MPs to wait five years this time if the latest winner proves a dud.

Michael White writes about politics for The Guardian

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