This has been a very difficult decision for me, but I will be giving Ming my first preference. Simon and Chris, I feel are both activists' candidates. Simon appeals to the left of the party, and Chris to radical liberals. (The right, if it exists, must keep quiet, as usual, for shame). So Chris appeals to me, very much. He could be the son I never had, had I no son already, and were I 40 years older. But I see in Chris some of the things that would make me a less than ideal leader of the party - such as giving the impression of focussing on the issues rather than the audience while speaking.
Ming's appeal is not to activists in any particular wing of the party, but to the country. This is the issue. Not who said or did what about Charles Kennedy, or how big somebody's majority is, or what leader might come next and when. Such things are the fluff of leadership contests, brought out by people who have already made their minds up for other reasons.
It is unfair to Chris. He has shown balls by standing and set the agenda of the campaign on policy. But this isn't about policy. And of course part of the reason it is so ballsy and so impressive is that he isn't the best candidate. The British love of the underdog is at work here. But life is unfair, and politics doubly so. If you look like a movie bad-guy and sound like a bank manager, it is unfair these should count against you. But they do.
It has been asked on the blogs whether the public are tired of conviction politicians like Blair, Bush and Clinton and are now ready to be led by policy wonks who will talk about the issues more. I'm afraid this is wishful thinking among us policy wonks. Policy is not what people look for, but a feeling of shared values. Chris simply doesn't connect with people well enough, save for us few freaks who intellectualise politics. He explains policy brilliantly and will be a great asset to the party. But that is not the leader's job.
And in focussing on policy Chris has sent a particular message: he cares about the things we care about - the environment, civil liberties, localism - more than the big issues for the general public: the economy, health, education and crime. To raise its game, this party must be consistent in its message and priorities and not focus too much on the sort of policies that get our activists excited. Chris is right in our comfort zone, and that is not what we need. I would like him to be the right choice, but that doesn't make it so.
Moving on to the other parties: Gordon Brown is the wonk to Blair's values and he will suffer for it. If we elect another wonk, the danger is that Brown and Huhne will send the public to sleep talking policy leaving Cameron to clean up. It is essential that we contrast with Brown as well as Cameron, and Ming is the man to do this. To be clear: Ming contrasts better with both Brown and Cameron than Chris does.
Not policy, but values, conviction, gravitas, these are what matter. Because Ming doesn't reflect the interests of a section of the party's activists, he is the more uniting force. He shows the greater consistency of message, the better support and the more character. This is why it has to be Ming.