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Was the the 1976 fight even dirtier than Huhne-Clegg?

December 26th, 2007

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    When David Steel played the toupee card

Lots has been written about the nastiness of this year’s battle for the Lib Dem leadership. Certainly the “Calamity Clegg” revelation appears to have been a pivotal moment. But was it as dirty as when David Steel beat John Pardoe for the leadership of the Liberal Party in 1976?

In that battle it was thought that Pardoe was the choice of party activists while Steel had the “establishment” and the “armchair members” on his side. As things got hotter Steel made a remarkable intervention. This is how Simon Hoggart recalled it in the Guardian last year.

Back in 1976 David Steel, a tough political knife-fighter, knew that his opponent, John Pardoe, was easily riled and that his ill-temper could end any chance he had. So he mused in front of two reporters (me and the man from the Daily Mail, as it happens) about Pardoe’s missing bald patch. Where had it gone? When the articles appeared, Pardoe duly went berserk, talking about “descending into the sewer” and the “drip drip drip of the total lie.” Steel won easily.

Mike Smithson






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