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A surprise victory

A surprise victory

Daniel Elliker (left) and Martin Turner prior to the final of the Warwickshire Fencing Competition

Daniel Elliker (left) and Martin Turner prior to the final of the Warwickshire Fencing Competition

Having not fenced between August 2009 and May 2010, I took a flyer on the Warwickshire County Championships, 26 June, after just two training sessions. I’d expected to be soundly thrashed in one of the early rounds, and wasn’t surprised to lose in the pool round 0:5 to Daniel Elliker of Birmingham Fencing Club. I still managed to be seeded fourth, pitting me against Richard Morris, first seed, in the semi-finals, after relatively straightforward fights in the last sixteen and the last eight. Reigning West Midlands champion, Morris has had a good year on the national competition circuit, making the last eight at the Slough Open.

Morris went almost immediately 4:1 up, exploiting a powerful fleche attack. I was fairly weary from the pool and the first two rounds — the eight fights within an hour were as much as I had done in the previous nine months. The most I could do was hold him off and attempt either to twist out of the way or to parry and riposte. By the end of the first time period, I had managed to work it up to 5:6 behind. After the one minute break, I realised that the psychological pressure was beginning to tell. Making my only attack of the fight, I was fortunate enough to step-balestra-lung, going straight past his parry to score a hit on the shoulder. This was perhaps not quite what he bargained for, and pushed him to attack repeatedly. Unfortunately for him, I had picked up the rhythm of his attack, and was able to draw him to attack with increasing speed, but decreasing effectiveness, until I was 11:7 up at the end of the second time period. In the final period he held back his attack, but, with time against him, was forced back into attacking mode, and eventually lost 15:8.

In the other semi-final, Matt Powell made an impressive come-back after being 7:11 down in a fight more characterised by the guts and determination of the fencers than by the technical superiority of one over the other. He reached 11:11 all to get back into contention, but Daniel Elliker managed to get a glancing hit which unnerved Powell, and pushed strongly to eventually win 15:12.

In the final, Daniel Elliker pushed quickly through, delivering attack after attack as I did little more than watch him. He reached 11:7 by the end of the second time period without any particular difficulty. But when he took off his mask, I saw the energy drain from his face — the exertions of the previous fight were catching up with him. Recognising that if I carried on defending as I had done in the previous fight I would be certain to lose, I took the fight to him. Regrettably my technique was nowhere near what it was a year before, and I was reduced to little better than walking up to him quickly and jabbing in a hit.

I pulled back to 13:14 behind, and I could see his reactions slowing. With about a minute left, I managed to get in a double-step-lunge. Daniel is very lithe and quick, and has long practised twisting away from the hit or doubling up to avoid the point. His counter-attack almost did for me as he pulled himself away to avoid my point, but I managed to get perhaps centimetre more than I was getting in the pool round when he beat me 5:0, and, with both lights coming on simultaneously, was awarded the point to go 14:14. Having not expected to get anywhere near this stage of the competition, I was now mortally tired, bone-weary and aching. With more or less my last strength, I fleched down his left side, landing on the piste and hitting him almost simultaneously and at the last allowable moment. There was just one light, and, for the first time, I was Warwickshire Champion.

It was almost ten minutes before I had the strength to get up again after saluting and shaking hands. Daniel had to go on to get medical attention, as he was in an extreme state of exhaustion.

In the nation’s interests

I have received howls of protest over the last few days from Lib Dem members, people who voted Lib Dem but usually vote Labour, and people who have never voted Lib Dem and never intend to. Some have demanded that Nick Clegg immediately fall into line behind Cameron and stop negotiating for ‘party advantage’. Some have insisted that for Clegg to co-ally would be a betrayal of all that is most sacred. Some have told me that talking to Labour was equivalent to state treachery, and Clegg can never be trusted again. By email, phone, Facebook, txt, tweet and even visits to my door, and, bizarrest of all, an email sent from Australia by someone I had never heard of directed to all Lib Dem candidates who contested the election, it’s been made clear to me that whatever Nick Clegg did, not everyone would be happy.

I have to confess I’ve struggled to get quite as emotionally caught up in this as some people. Those of us who stand for parliament do so with an underlying notion of public service. Of course we want our party to win. And there is always personal ambition: we want to be in there, making the decisions, with our fingers on the turning of the world. But nobody would go through the five weeks of gruelling punishment, preceded by four years of selection and campaigning, preceded in turn by how ever many years of becoming involved and going through a candidate approval process, unless there was more than simply the desire for our team to win.

Nick Clegg was always honour-bound to make his decision in the nation’s best interests. Anything less would have simply ruled him unfit to be a party leader.

The only question was: what decision would be in the nation’s best interests?

I will put my cards on the table: after last year’s expenses debacle, and this year’s scandal over the Ashcroft million, electoral reform seems to me to be one of the nation’s most important and pressing concerns. The result of the General Election — no clear majority in parliament, nothing like a majority in the popular vote (Tories polled only 12% more than Lib Dems, lest we forget, but gained more than five times as many seats) — demonstrates very clearly that the public are not satisfied.

But, although pressing, electoral reform is not the most pressing concern. I do not accept the view of the scaremongerers that Britain is about to go the way of Greece. David Cameron has already had to eat his words that a hung parliament would spell economic disaster. But it is true that the economy is right at the top of the list of things that need to be fixed now, and fixed right.

A coalition with Labour was always a long-shot, and Clegg was right to honour his election pledge and talk first to the party with the most votes. But he was also right to at least attempt a deal with Labour. This was not treachery, as some of the Tory press and some of my own correspondents have suggested, but a necessary and entirely honourable step: Clegg was duty bound to explore both feasible possibilities as he decided for the United Kingdom who should be the next prime minister.

For the record, I think it would have been possible to do it. (I do not say that it would have necessarily been the best thing, but I do say that it would have been possible). Those who argued that this was undemocratic forget the very shaky ground on which they stand: Labour and the Lib Dems between them gained more than 50% of the popular vote, although, because of our misrepresentative system, this was not quite 50% of the seats in parliament. Labour certainly seemed ready to promise a much swifter, much surer route to electoral reform. And Gordon Brown nobly was willing to accept Nick Clegg’s other election promise — that, whatever happened, Brown would not continue as Prime Minister.

But it was Labour MPs themselves who made it quite clear that they had no real interest in staying in government. From the point that (then, still) government ministers went on the record in public stating this, the chances of a deal with Labour were over.

Many Lib Dem voters find the coalition with the Conservatives distasteful. I personally remained on good terms with all the candidates in the Stratford election, except for the BNP who never attended any of the debates and with whom I never spoke. But there have been instances where Tory attacks were brutal and unfounded. And we have endured the jeers and scorn of the Tory press barons for more than a generation.

It is certainly true that very few will have voted Lib Dem with the aim of putting David Cameron in government.

But Nick Clegg still had to put the nation’s interest ahead of his own. The choice between a Conservative minority government which would be almost certain to fall in recriminations within six months, in which time it would have made little real progress in tackling the economic crisis, and none at all in electoral reform, or a true Lib Dem Con coalition, was one that simply could not be made in any other way from the way it has been made.

The solution is not perfect. David Cameron could have divested himself of the lacklustre George Osborne. If having Vince Cable as chancellor was too much to swallow (though it would have pleased the nation, and the markets), Ken Clarke was waiting in the wings, the only member of Cameron’s team who had ever served in a senior role in a government. There could have been (and should have) a commitment to a referendum on true electoral reform, not merely the disproportional Alternative Vote (AV) system. If the Conservatives believe that the public has no appetite for electoral reform, then they should have agreed to a referendum on the real issue. If they were willing to accept a grudging compromise and no more, they should have offered a simple bill on AV as Labour did, and left it at that. The nation is to be put to the trouble and expense of a referendum without being allowed to vote on the real topic of discussion.

Nonetheless, the prospect of an autumn election has receded to the horizon. Cameron’s lightweight team will be strongly bolstered by 5 Lib Dem cabinet ministers, and a total of 20 Lib Dems across his ministries.

Lib Dem fortunes at the next election will almost certainly suffer, and there will equally certainly be a spate of recriminations and even member-resignations. And this is the true mark of Nick Clegg’s leadership: at personal cost, he has put the interests of the nation first.

End is begin

Apologies if you are looking for the earlier version of this article — there was a server glitch and we had to roll back to an earlier version.

In Stratford on Avon the Lib Dem vote rose by 1.7% — higher than the national rise of 1%. Two weeks ago, our poll figures were putting us in contention to win this seat, but the change in the national mood — largely fuelled by the ‘only Cameron can get Brown out’ message pedalled by national newspapers, and now shown to be vacuous — meant that we got none of the 16% boost that we were looking at.

My congratulations to Nadhim Zahawi, who fought a good campaign.

To the 29% of the electorate here who voted for me: Thank you. We have not won this time, but that does not mean we will not win next time. Thank you for the confidence you placed in me. As I promised in my campaign literature, I will continue to live here and work here, and continue to press for all the issues which were so important during the campaign.

We may well see another General Election in the next six months… so don’t settle back down to ‘business as usual’.

For now, we wait the outcome of the discussions between leaders. All must surely recognised that for the Lib Dems nationally to gain 1% and yet lose 5 seats, and to get almost 1/4 of the votes and substantially less than 10% of the seats, demonstrates clearly that our election system is now desperately in need of reform.

Clegg edges Cameron out 2:1

In four polls after tonight’s debate, Cameron came first in one, Clegg in two, and they were equal in the fourth. Brown was last in three out of four polls, and joint second with Cameron in one poll.

YouGov: Cameron 36 per cent, Clegg 32 per cent, Brown 29 per cent

ComRes: Clegg 33 per cent Brown 30 per cent, Cameron 30 per cent.

Angus Reid: Clegg 35 per cent, Cameron 32 per cent, Brown 23 per cent.

Populus: Cameron 36 per cent, Clegg 36 per cent, Brown 27 per cent.

This comes hard on the heels of a nasty smear campaign run this morning in the national press, alleging that Clegg had acted improperly when, in fact, Clegg had not only acted properly but had also fully declared everything he was doing.

Cameron needed a knock-out blow tonight, and his spin-doctors had more or less promised one. He did not get it, and the ‘Clegg effect’ is set to grow.

On the streets, I have been amazed by the overwhelming welcome I’ve been getting since last Thursday. I went round a school this afternoon and was treated like a rock-star by children who (I guess) probably didn’t know who Nick Clegg was eight days ago, and certainly had no real interest in the Liberal Democrats.

It is changing. It is changing!

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