A Soggy Argument

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Unsurprisingly, Chris Huhne is starting to draw some criticism, with both Simon Mollan and Dan Falchikov laying into him this afternoon.

Probably the weakest of these criticisms is the one about Huhne being a closet (whisper it!) social democrat. Do catch up. The party has inherited too many genuine liberals from the old SDP for this to still be an issue: Roy Jenkins, Bob Maclennan, Charles Kennedy to name but three. In 1982, the Liberal Party had been in the political wilderness for decades; it is no surprise that liberals ended up in both Labour and the Conservatives. Some of the most illiberal people I’ve ever met within the party love to go on and on about their background in the old Liberal Party, which was more of a franchise for the disaffected than the Lib Dems have ever been. Sneering about anyone with an SDP background being a closet socialist is simply historically ignorant (compounded in Simon Mollan’s case by apparant ignorance that Huhne’s line about taxing the dead was a direct quote from David Lloyd-George).

Some of Simon’s criticisms are valid: Chris certainly does need to stop grinning inanely when he doesn’t realise the cameras are on him, and his apparent smugness over the YouGov poll did him few favours. I certainly do think that he needs some fairly intensive media training to get him up to speed. But as the former employee of Paddy Ashdown’s ex-speech trainer, I can state categorically that has applied to some of the best politicians around. And as a “problem” it is eminently fixable.

But his criticisms on international policy are just plain Simon, who in any case was an outspoken critic of Ming before the leadership blew up. Simon won’t like what ANY of the candidates have to say on foreign policy, so why he considers this to be a deciding factor in the contest is beyond me.

Ditto environmental taxation. Again, all three candidates are in favour; the debate is about degree. It is fair enough to choose the candidate closer to your view, but Simon does seem rather keen on attempting to portray this in black and white terms, with Chris and Ming at different ends of the spectrum. What he’s really saying is that he doesn’t like any of the candidates’ policies and Ming is the best of a bad lot. That’s again fair enough, but a bit of frankness would be nice.

10 thoughts on “A Soggy Argument

  1. I thought about this too, despite the SDP being far before my time, what I see of it is that those who have stayed with the LibDems over the years are generally liberals.
    The likes of Polly Toynbee (who stood as an SDP candidate) have gone back to supporting Labour.

    Again, the old Liberal party was not always a great bastion of liberalism, even some of the greats of the past made illiberal judgements, and having been in the wilderness for so long, the other parties naturally picked up people who would now join us.

  2. Spot on James.

    We should judge each of them on the policies they have argued for, not which party they joined from.

    After all Richard Holme was a Liberal!

    And on Iraq Ming still hasn’t explained what caused him to change his view from agreeing with Chris & Simon a year ago to the view he currently holds.

  3. The last leadership candidate to play the “pure liberal” card was David Rendel in 1999, and look where that got him.

    Hating the SDP is yesterday’s fetish. Owen is long gone (John Grant is actually dead), and many of the so-called radical liberals of years gone by (who baited Thorpe and Steel) have ended up in suits and ties running councils. (The last time I heard the oxymoronic phrase “libertarian socialist” was in the 1970s.)

    Let’s have no more of this nonsense.

    Yes, there were loads of illiberal Liberals. How about Cyril Smith (in favour of capital and corporal punishment)? Or Roger Pincham (he of the School of Economic Science)? Or Frank Byers (“I pride myself on being a champion queer-spotter, and I know Jeremy isn’t one”)?

    I’m sorry, but I can’t really see any political distinction between Roy Jenkins and Ming Campbell.

  4. James, the point is that Ming’s position on Iraq has changed from that shared with Chris H and Simon H to that which I hold and have consistently argued for a long time. I do not know for sure why Ming’s position has changed, but I suspect that it might have a lot to do with the removal of Kennedy’s influence on foreign policy formulation.

    As for not recognising a David Lloyd-George quote – I suspect I may not have been the only one to have missed this, but I am perfectly happy to admit my ignorance of the sayings of the great man. On the other hand, joke by quotation and the expense of widespread comprehension coupled to an unpopular policy (IHT) equals gag falling on face and a less popular candidate. Happy to be ignorant on this one…

  5. When he referred to David Lloyd George, he credited him directly. This wasn’t merely a case of ignorance (from someone advocating an advanced knowledge of liberal politics), but a case of not paying attention.

    As for Campbell’s flip-flopping on Iraq, whatever makes you think he won’t do it again?

  6. James, evidently I missed the DLG quote. However, even if Huhne did cite DLG it is still NOT FUNNY. That aside, you clearly have me rumbled. I can’t listen properly and don’t have as advanced an understanding of liberal political history as you do. Glad we have that straight; after all, there is harm in being sometimes wrong, especially if one is promptly found out.

    But to rebut your point on Ming’s flip-flop – I don’t expect politicians to get it right all of the time. When they get it wrong but then change their minds I tend to give them extra credit. As you know, when Ming was spouting the time-table for withdrawal line, I criticised him. Why do I think he will not do it again? Duh. I hope he does – every time the evidence changes, or the argument is better made, I hope he has the bravery to change his mind. I hope I do. And you?

  7. Neither Huhne or DLG were making a joke – they were making a pragmatic point about taxation. Yes, there is certainly a degree of irony in the statement, but I’m confused why you seem to think it is a disgrace that he has said something that did not make you want to roll about on the floor pissing yourself.

    As for your defence of Ming’s flip-flop, the point is that circumstances haven’t changed, yet he has. He has not explained why the sudden change of mind, or why he now seeks to make political capital out of attacking anyone who adopts that position. I want a leader who is a clear communicator, not one who will get his lieutenants to attack me as “naively populist” simply for parroting what I thought was his position.

  8. James, you are taking this point about the DLG quote too seriously. When I said it was ‘not funny’, I meant that it was in bad taste. It may have been a quote; it may be ironic. Whatever. Not blessed with your hearing or political education I thought that it came over pretty badly – but it was hardly the substance of my objections.

    As for the Iraq issue – the broadly circumstances have not changed, but this does not mean that someone cannot change their mind about the argument. I’d like to think that Ming Campbell simply realised he was wrong. I think this is a sign of maturity and acumen – but then I would, wouldn’t I? On the other hand, I also strongly suspect that the increasing influence of people like Nick Clegg, and the waning influence of Charles Kennedy, has probably helped Ming rediscover his spine on Iraq. I would like to know what seemingly has changed his mind as well.

    But you know James, if you were “simply parroting what I [you] thought was his position” I would say that you were being both naive and populist, firstly for naively parroting anyone’s position (whatever it was) and secondly for ducking what needs to be done in Iraq in favour of what is popular. Parrots and ducks…..

  9. But you know James, if you were “simply parroting what I [you] thought was his position” I would say that you were being both naive and populist, firstly for naively parroting anyone’s position (whatever it was) and secondly for ducking what needs to be done in Iraq in favour of what is popular. Parrots and ducks…..

    That’s a luxury we can all afford on our blogs. It is not a luxury one can afford on the doorstep. We need a clear line, not a leader who has a different position depending on what day of the week it is.

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