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Leading Ladies

Betsan Powys | 11:48 UK time, Thursday, 20 November 2008

It may not be the rumble in the jungle but on tonight's Dragon's Eye the two would-be leaders of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Jenny Randerson and Kirsty Williams, go head to head. Tomorrow morning the ballot papers are sent out to the 2,600 or so members, so may the best woman use her 3'30" to the best effect.

The USP of this leadership election? That both candidates are women.

The latest odds? Neck and neck.

The latest news from the party? That membership has "surged" by 3%. Now given that means some 40 people Wales-wide have joined, I think I'll go for "slight increase" over "surge".

Camp Kirsty claim to have the support of 15 council groups give or take, leaving Jenny Randerson with just a fistful. But in that fistful, of course, is Cardiff with its numbers and city-wide, well-oiled machinery. In there too is Wrexham. It'll have done Camp Jenny no harm to have Council leader Aled Roberts on their side, even if "Wrexham Councillors endorse Jenny Randerson" is yet to catch on with You Tube users.

He must be the nearest thing we have in Wales to a Vince Cable - not exactly a "twinkle-toed economic prophet" perhaps but he's affable, popular in the party and his council did get their millions out of Landsbanki just in time.

Ideas? Both candidates share lots of the same ones. Want an Ideas Academy, a Leader's Hotline, Youth Academy? Then vote ... well either really. What the 2,600 members must decide is which woman they want out there doing the job.

The choice, as they've presented it themselves, is this:

Do you want the one with experience or the young, passionate one?
The one who supported the rainbow coalition deal or the "rainbow wrecker?"
The one who has been in government and who sells herself as "the package that we need to return to government", or the one who says the party's "aim must be to be in government - working with whoever we can to make common cause with - but it must be on our terms?"

On Monday at the Institute of Welsh Affairs debate in the Assembly Kirsty Williams told a room packed with politicians, academics and commentators that she would not necessarily veto a deal with the Tories in future. She would make up her mind based on the deal on the table, not who's sitting around it. She sighs, rolls her eyes when the subject is put to her but knows on that one, Jenny Randerson has her over a rainbow-coloured barrel.

She'll have her critics who'll never forgive. Find them firmly in Camp Jenny but take a good look and amongst the 165 names in Camp Kirsty are those who have forgiven. Their reasoning? That sticking to her guns took guts and that she had every right to question a deal that had on it the infamous Liberal Democrat "triple lock". Not her fault that the leadership - supported by Jenny Randerson - failed to see defeat coming.

No, they're not best mates and it hasn't been a particularly clean fight.

Camp Kirsty talk of "a fresh start and a leader for the long term". In the language of the young people both are keen to appeal to that translates as "Jenny = same old". They conjure up a picture of a potential and youthful leadership line-up of Carwyn Jones, Jonathan Morgan and Adam Price and ask who you'd want to stand alongside them?

In return come suggestions that the Brecon and Radnor AM has too much on her plate, won't work weekends because of her three young girls and, I'm told by Camp Kirsty, even that loaded query about whether she's 'stable' enough?

A non-Lib Dem and no Kirsty Williams fan suggested after Monday night's debate that her performance had reminded them of a Morecambe and Wise sketch. They were talking about the 'Grieg's Piano Concerto by Grieg sketch' and Eric Morecambe's response to Andre Previn's accusation that he was "playing all the wrong notes". "I'm playing all the right notes" he said "but not necessarily in the right order." She had the right things to say in there somewhere but a coherent message?

Before Camp Jenny rub their hands, let's add that it was Kirsty Williams who the IWA saw fit to invite alongside Rhodri Morgan, Ieuan Wyn Jones and Adam Price and that rarely do people bother briefing against politicians that are not, at the very least, on their radar.

Dragon's Eye is on BBC 2 Wales at 9 o'clock and on BBC 1 Wales at 10.35pm.

The new Lib Dem leader will be on their feet in the chamber on December 9th.


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