Daily Archives: 7 February 2006

I bet you think this blog is about you

Deputy Chair of the Lib Dem Federal Policy Committee Jeremy Hargreaves has made this contribution to the Meeting the Challenge website. Here, he outlines his proposed “narrative”:

It’s About You: putting you in control of your own life (and actively equipping you to be so), and making our shared institutions accountable to you.

I think he’s halfway there, which is a slightly nicer way of putting “he’s very, very wrong.” It isn’t that I’m opposed to a people centred politics, I just think that put like that it sounds very harsh, very consumerist and, frankly, very much like the Pre-Cameron Conservatives.

The most crucial criticism of this is that it isn’t all about you. It’s about your friends, your family, your community/ies. It’s about everyone you’ve ever cared for. It’s about your unborn children and grandchildren, nephews and neices. It’s about that poor starving African you’ve never met who you thought buying a wristband would help.

The point is, humans are by their very nature social creatures. If you want to be me going all Darwinian, there may be a bit of enlightened self-interest at play here, but what it basically boils down to is that no person is an island, and we should be wary of sounding as if we think that.

That isn’t to say the individual isn’t important. Of course we want to empower the individual. But that is because we have an optimistic view of human nature. Liberals believe that if you give people the means, broadly speaking they will be good citizens. Socialists believe it has to be done for them collectively while Conservatives don’t believe in good citizens in the first place. If liberalism didn’t contain within it that fundamental belief in human nature, it would be a dead philosophy.

In short, we should be individualist. But we should be championing an individualism that leads to strong communities and a more global conscience, not an individualism for its own sake.

I think it is important to reflect on Neil Stockley’s narrative archetypes:

  • The Politics of Hope
  • The Aspiring Individual
  • The Politics of Fear
  • The Enemy Within

Clearly, Jeremy has placed his flag squarely on “The Aspiring Individual” one. But that only tells us half the story. As Neil points out, Thatcher was keen on this, but she was also playing “The Enemy Within” card.

Ironically, I think we should consider doing the same. I hasten to add however that our “enemy” is very different from Thatcher’s! The “rot” we want to stop is mindless bureaucracy, centralisation, an anti-democratic culture (much of which the legacy of Thatcher herself of course). The reason we want to stop this rot is that it is destroying our ability to make meaningful choices about our own quality of life. Fundamentally, it is destroying our ability to care, leading to a rise in anti-social behaviour, lack of democratic participation and general engagement with society. It isn’t just about the right to choose school X or hospital Y, which is how the “choice agenda” is generally framed.

I’m not there myself yet: I still haven’t worked out how to distill this down to a few phrases. But we can’t afford to go into the general election sounding like rampant individualists. To quote a certain Mr Cameron: “we’re all in this together”.

Is Camp Campbell worried?

Nick Clegg’s piece today is a calculated attack on Chris Huhne: Hughes is damned with faint praise, while Nick has almost nothing to say about his own candidate except accept make excuses for the poor campaign and more willy waving about the number of MPs. Thank goodness for the sub-editor who opted for a less beat-around-the-bush approach.

One of his arguments is that Ming is supported by “the party’s two leading environmental spokesmen” Norman Baker and Chris Davies. I don’t take issue with the latter, who has done a very fine job in the European Parliament. It has to be said however that environmental policy at the EU level is a very different kettle of fish from the UK. In the European Parliament, Davies deals with regulatory instruments and setting targets for the Euro-region to follow. It doesn’t deal with the sort of taxation policy that Huhne has been advocating.

If we’re being frank though, I have to say that I’m not impressed by the job Norman Baker has done over the past few years with the environment brief. He has tended to do what Phil Willis was always accused of doing: sing to his own interest groups. For instance, he has followed loyally behind them in opposing energy from waste policies, a stance that has at time been appallingly NIMBYish.

And he’s been extremely bad at the big picture environmentalism, of the kind that Chris Huhne has made an issue of in this campaign. This has got the party into trouble at times. Back in early 2004, we started to get quite alarming feedback from environmental groups and journalists about the lack of substance to the Lib Dem’s green agenda, following a keynote speech by Kennedy. The Green Lib Dems (I was Vice Chair at the time) were so alarmed by the feedback we had received that we lobbied Kennedy to do a second speech six months later, spelling out a more strategic approach. It worked, but it was frustrating to see us slipping back to the same uninspiring style following the general election (something which I commented on here).

Norman Baker bears responsibility for this, so you will forgive me if I am unperturbed that he isn’t backing Huhne for leader in favour of a candidate that advocates nonsenses like road user charging.

But back to Clegg’s article. What is clear from it is that he now sees Huhne as the target. This can only be a good thing from Huhne’s point of view. Is it significant that we are still Waiting for YouGov? If Guido’s “leak” proves correct, then it rather looks as if Camp Campbell were somehow involved in this poll and are sitting on it. Either way, the new poll today should, presumably commissioned by someone else, should stop that game.

As for the excuses regarding Ming’s campaign, I’m afraid I’m not convinced. Yes, Ming couldn’t afford to attack the other candidates in the way they have gone for him (slightly ironic, given that most of the really negative stuff has come from individuals within Camp Campbell), but he could have fought a massively more positive campaign to the one we have. People are frustrated at the fact that Ming seems to turn up to fewer hustings than the other candidates. The fact that, for example, the Mingcasts are now all from people eulogising about the Great Man and not the Ming himself, is starting to become apparent. Aren’t we important enough for him to waste his time on?

People have always respected Ming – that has never been an issue. What they have been less sure about is if they like him, particularly after the Kennedy debacle. Ming has chosen not to tackle that issue and that, more than anything else, is why he has been losing so much ground.

UPDATE: Mike Smithson has also been leaked the poll. He has this to say:

My informant tells me that the survey was commissioned by a wealthy backer of Ming Campbell who is also a big donor and he told me his name.

I was given the figures of Campbell 40%: Huhne 34% and Hughes 24% on first preferences. My information is that while the Hughes second preferences would split in Huhne’s favour they do not split enough for him to win.

Come on “mystery donor”, show us what you’ve got. The damage has already been done and every day you delay you just make your own man look even more stupid. It does raise the question though: why has Ming chosen to surround himself with such overexcitable fools who have done so much to damage his campaign? Once again I’d remind you that this is a question of leadership.

Flying blind

My trailled “killer post” on Huhne failed to emerge. Sorry, had problems with another project last night. Not sure I have that much to add to what I’ve already said in any case.

The lack of YouGov poll is proving irritating. Guido and Mike Smithson speculate that this is because the commissioner didn’t like the results, which is a bit crap given that they must know that is the risk you take with polls.

Yesterday, I received an envelope of bumph from Huhne and today I got a “blue letter” from the man along with my ballot paper. Also, an ad in the print edition of the Guardian.

Have to say, I also enjoyed listening to Radio Huhne last night. The inquisitorial style they’ve got going there contrasts widely with David Walter’s at times sycophantic Mingcasts. Really reinforces the fact that Huhne is the thinking member’s choice.

UPDATE: Guido is now saying the poll went Campbell 40%, Huhne 34% and Hughes 24%. No word on second preferences, but if true this is nothing but good news for Our Chris.

UPDATE 2: Just completed a SECOND YouGov survey on the Lib Dem leadership. Will they print this one, do you think?