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From The Socialist newspaper, 25 October 2007

Liberal Democrat leadership: Two candidates, one background, no answers

NOW THAT Ming Campbell has bowed to the inevitable, the Lib Dems are gearing themselves up for a leadership election. But the only two candidates to have declared so far, Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg, admit that their "similarities outweigh their differences".

Ken Douglas

They both attended Westminster 'public' school (boarding fee £8,652), one went to Cambridge University, the other to Oxford. They're not alone in this – one third of all MPs and 42% of front-benchers went to fee-paying schools and more than 25% to Oxford or Cambridge, which shows how unrepresentative MPs are and remote from ordinary people (only 7% of all children go to a fee-paying school).

The Sutton Trust, which surveyed MPs' educational backgrounds, concluded that this was indicative of "the educational apartheid that…offers the best life chances to those who can afford to pay for their schooling".

Both Clegg and Huhne contributed to the 'Orange Book', which called for the Lib Dems to adopt a free-market approach to the public sector; in other words cuts and privatisation.

Clegg is 'tough on crime', calling for tougher sentences for serious offenders; Huhne is tough on economics, calling for 'green taxes' to make flying and driving more expensive – measures that would hit working-class people hardest.

Having publicly agreed their lack of differences, and if no other candidates declare themselves, then all that is left will be a two-month beauty contest. Insiders say there is animosity between the two camps but it is "all a matter of demeanour rather than policy".

This shows the homogenisation of British politics – when the main parties' candidates stand for essentially the same policies, the only differences are personal ones. Even their pasts are equally unchequered – although Clegg got community service for burning down two greenhouses containing cacti as a student and Huhne once wrote a paper allegedly advocating the use of LSD.

Clearly, the Lib Dems want a David Cameron of their own to win disaffected conservative voters. But with the main parties all battling for the same piece of centre ground under a first past the post electoral system, the Lib Dems will continue to be squeezed.

This contest is likely to see a neo-liberal elected as leader of the Lib Dems – confirming their move to the right in order to try and capture a section of the Tory vote.

They will offer no alternative for public-sector workers battling below-inflation pay rises, privatisation and casualisation; or for communities fighting attacks on their local hospitals and other services.

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In The Socialist 25 October 2007:

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March to save the NHS

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