I attended the Liberal Democrat leadership hustings in London tonight. Marvellous to see a packed hall and speeches filled with energy and passion and good questionning though the candidates weren't bowled anything too drastic apart from a question or two about Sajjd Karim.
Impressions - Chris Huhne spoke first (always an advantage) and was frankly superb. His delivery was polished, he spoke with authority and although his intonation wouldn't be to everyone's taste, he pushed a lot of the right buttons with the crowd. This was the kind of speech one could imagine at a party Conference.
Nick Clegg is a different kind of speaker - much less polished, more conversational but engaging and the audience warmed to him after (I thought) a slow start. Perhaps he would be the more telegenic performer but he tried to speak off the cuff and found himself struggling for words at times and I would fear for him in the bearpit of the House of Commons.
Chris Huhne, as I say, hit a lot of the buttons for a Liberal (and liberal) audience. The Party would undoubtedly be comfortable with him as leader but I fear that may be the problem. Yes, he talks of being "anti-establishment" and that's fine but a lot of what he said was straight down the Liberal line.
Nick Clegg is far from the finished article in presentational terms but he would take the party down some different paths. He clearly has ideas which some LDs would find difficult to swallow but he is prepared to, so to speak, think the unthinkable such as on vouchers. For me, that willingness to explore different solutions and not play it safe offers the party a huge opportunity to reach out to new groups of voters.
Supporters of both candidates were well represented in the audience though I think there were perhaps more backers of Chris than Nick among the committed. I also spotted Bill Rodgers and Chris Rennard among the crowd.
So, how will I vote ? My worry about Nick Clegg is his ability to perform in the Commons though that would improve with time and, to be fair, that wasn't Charles Kennedy's strength either. Chris Huhne is far more the finished article and would be a powerful voice against both Gordon Brown and David Cameron. My hope is that whichever wins offers the other a senior position so we can see the best of both of them.
I went to the hustings tonight not sure I wanted to vote for either candidate - the problem now is I want to vote for them both.