Am I bovvered? Do I look bovvered?

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Busy with lots of things this week, so apologies if you’ve been missing my posts (hope springs eternal and all that).

Anyway, in the last few days, it looks like Our Chris has received two pointed attacks, one from the Institute of Hard Sums and one from the infamous Michael Crick. I’ll deal with the latter first.

Not that there’s much to deal with. In a sign of how newsworthy the BBC themselves consider this story, it isn’t mentioned on their own news portal. Their top “Huhne Item” is about the Guido’s revelations about a druggie article in a magazine he edited as a student. That is how seriously your own colleagues take you Mr Crick.

In fact, I’d say the biggest lapse of judgement Huhne demonstrated here was agreeing to to do a recorded interview with Crick. I’m not saying he should have avoided the whole thing, it’s just that I’ve been on the receiving end of the Crick Technique, know others who have had the same experience, and have learnt that this is one of the ways in which he stitches people up. In my own case I must have done okay because he didn’t use the story at all in the end, but he has a habit of lulling people into a sense of security and then quickly ravaging them like a rottweiller to get that same look of surprise that all his interviewees have. You never get to see the “nice” bit of the interview.

Huhne should have only agreed to do an interview live, in which better journalistic standards have to be enforced. Finally, I have to say, listening to Kirsty Wark pontificate about the misuse of public funds (in this case hundreds of pounds rather than hundreds of millions) was rather hard to take.

Onto the IFS, which Simon Mollan has already gleefully alluded to. My genuine first reaction when reading about their findings was “only £21 billion?” I’d heard that this tax cut would have come to closer to £30bn.

But of course, this is tosh, and the idea that Huhne has a “case to answer” here is to misunderstand the purpose of leadership. By talking about taking people who earn minimum wage out of income tax, Chris is setting the party direction. He is purposefully not spelling out detailed policy proposals. He hasn’t said this should be done in a single term, nor has he said that 100% of environmental tax rises should be dedicated to the goal (and as both Jock Coats and myself have pointed out on many occasions, environmental taxation includes land taxes – no-one is arguing loading everything onto fossil fuels). It is for the wider party to come up with a detailed set of policy proposals that aim to meet this goal; in this sense the result of the leadership election is the start of a process, not the end of it.

What is crucial however, is that Huhne is prepared to offer us leadership on the issue. He isn’t content with saying “the environment is good, mmm’kay?” in the way the Campbell Campaign is open to the charge of. And he isn’t prepared to cop out, in the way that Zac Goldsmith has done (shock! horror! he’s sold out, who’dathunkit?), by saying that you can achieve significant environmental goals without any extra regulations or taxes.

I have to confess with getting a little bored with the leadership ballot now. It’s already over bar the shouting, but we have to observe two more weeks for the last few stragglers to get their ballot papers in. My best guess is that it will be close between Huhne and Campbell, but I can’t see how blogging about it much more will make much difference.

The one thing I’m genuinely surprised about is how vitriolic it has become, particularly towards Huhne. All that anger would appear to be displacement. Rather than question why it is that Campbell has gone from having the whole thing sown up to (possibly) being pipped at the post, a lot of bloggers (and it would appear, senior politicians) have instead opted to take their frustrations out on Huhne, who’s only crime was to make a better fist of running a leadership campaign than Campbell.

Most readers of this blog will be unaware of the incredibly unwise allegations that were posted (and removed by me) here a few days ago, which would have probably done Huhne’s election bid very little harm but if picked up by the media would have caused the whole party problems. People appear to have lost all perspective in the course of the contest.

Whoever wins, Huhne deserves real credit as it takes real skill to go from “Whuhne?” to the odds-on favourite. Win or lose, Campbell supporters need to learn to deal with that fact, and fast. I wouldn’t want to see our next election campaign run like the Campbell campaign, and I certainly don’t want to see the whole party derailed by people who can’t cope with the fact that their candidate lost.

7 thoughts on “Am I bovvered? Do I look bovvered?

  1. I am horrified to see that a “Labour News” leaflet was put out by our people in Eastleigh last May, and I am not at all surprised that Crick waved it in Chris Huhne’s face. Considering the trouble is caused in Tower Hamlets (and elsewhere), that is.

    The practice of publishing Lib Dem leaflets disguised as Labour or Tory leaflets (with the undubitable intention of deceiving voters as to their origin) was devised by Peter Chegwyn in the early 1980s.

    The first went out in Gosport in a local election. It was headed “Labour News”, was printed on pink paper and appeared on a quick reading to be a plea by the Labour Party to their supporters to vote Liberal. The imprint said “Printed and published by Gosport CLP” (CLP = “Constiutuency Liberal Party”).

    Peter used this same ruse again in the Enfield Southgate parliamentary byelection of December, 1984. This time, the Labour Party got cross (their vote was squeezed). Gerald Kaufman (?) brandished it at David Steel on the Newsnight Byelection Special, and Steel had to defend it.

    Now, Peter may be a street-fighter, but he knows where the boundaries are. Others do not. Their ambition gets the better of them and they overstep the mark.

    Like Jeremy Shaw. It was obvious that the 1990 borough election in Tower Hamlets was going to be close. Not wishing the take any chances (or prisoners), Shaw decided to issue a “Labour News” leaflet in several marginal wards. The leaflet purported to be a Labour Party leaflet, was printed on pink paper, and bore a 7pt imprint. It exhorted the electorate to vote Labour for various stated reasons (such as giving preferential treatment to squatters), all of them Labour Party policy, believe it or not.

    The Labour Party brought an election petition, which it eventually lost (at great cost to both parties).

    In 1994, Lord Lester (in his report on the 1993 Tower Hamlets literature) revisited Shaw’s “Labour News” leaflet and called it “the fake Labour leaflet”. He regarded it as a dishonest and contemptible device to fool voters.

    Given what Lord Lester said, and the huge legal costs which were incurred, I am just amazed that someone in Eastleigh was crazy enoughy to do this (and that it got past Chris Rennard – who has never employed such techniques, incidentally).

    Chris Huhne was probably never shown the leaflet before it went out. Candidates generally keep out of the minutiae of election campaigns.

    But we cannot fairly criticise Crick for raising it.

  2. Your mock horror is unconvincing, as was Crick’s. Having helped coordinate one of the largest trawls of election literature ever undertaken a few months ago I’ve seen dozens of similar examples from other parties, many of which did not even bother with the niceties of imprints.

    It is insulting the intelligence of the electorate in the extreme to assume that they are stupid enough to see a pink leaflet with “Labour News” written on it and which endorses another party and think it is from the Labour Party. If I see a spoof cigarette advert, I don’t automatically think it is a cigarette advert. What they are about is grabbing attention. No one is fooled except the intellectually subnormal, and everyone, if they are being honest with themselves, knows this.

  3. If no-one is fooled, then why do it?

    The fact that other political parties do the same and worse is no excuse. (And if there is no imprint, then perhaps you will draw the matter to the attention of the returning officers in question.)

    Lord Lester QC, who was appointed by the Federal Executive to consider literature published by the Tower Hamlets party, took the view that leaflets of precisely this sort are dishonest and unacceptable.

    No disrespect, but on issues of morality and jurisprudence, I prefer Lord Lester’s judgment to yours.

    You might also be interested to know that I was present at a gathering where Simon Hughes condemned the Southgate leaflet (it was a private meeting, but I don’t regard this as a breach of confidence).

    Do you think the “toilet” and “boxer” leaflets were acceptable? Lord Lester did not. Ditto Paddy Ashdown (who “went balistic”).

    The use of EU funding to part-finance pre-election literature is dodgy, but probably not illegal.

    In English law, where a statute is ambiguous, it is interpreted in the defendant’s favour. What the position is in Roman law I have not a clue.

    In the 1980s, Labour councils used to advertise jobs in “Labour Weekly”, because this was one of the few lawful ways in which local authorities could give money to the Labour Party.

    But again, the fact that the Labour Party does something questionable is no justification for the Liberal Democrats descending to the same level.

    If you want to receive an election petition, James, I hope you can afford to pay the costs (in the end, members have to foot the bill).

    (Note that Peter Chegwyn targeted Labour candidates who stood no chance of winning.)

    PS: I speak as someone who has written many leaflets that have been the subject of criticisms, usually from my own party.

  4. Reality check time: Lord Lester’s report was on the goings on at Tower Hamlets, not Chris Huhne’s Eastleigh election literature. Why are you playing this ridiculous game of conflating the two?

    If it doesn’t fool anyone why do it? Because it DOES grab attention. It DOES challenge preconceptions. That is what good marketing is all about.

    Secondly, conflating local authorities advertising in Labour News with EU Information money, which is explicitly there for MEPs to promote their work, is batshit crazy.

    Thirdly, I’ve written plenty of literature in my time and don’t recall receiving an election petition once. I would appreciate it if your smear campaign didn’t start extending to me now Angus.

  5. What smear campaign? You are the one in need of a reality check. I am smearing no-one.

    Perhaps you should read what Lord Lester had to say on the matter of Liberal Democrats publishing leaflets which are intended to deceive the reader into believing that they have come from the Labour Party. It sounds as though you haven’t done, otherwise you would make somewhat better informed comments, I respectfully suggest.

    Clearly, your support for Chris Huhne is so partisan that you blindly refuse to accept that the use of EU funding to publish political propaganda, while probably lawful, fails the Caesar’s wife test.

  6. I skimmed through Lester’s report many years ago. You will forgive me for not having read it more recently, but it isn’t exactly widely available. Do you have a copy, or are you quoting from memory?

    I have no doubt there is a line that could potentially be crossed with such literature, but that line was not crossed by what I saw of Huhne’s literature. It was evidently not from the Labour Party (it didn’t use the rose symbol, it was clearly in support of the Liberal Democrats, it had a legal imprint). Regardless of what you might think happened in Tower Hamlets nearly 20 years ago, it is not in the same league.

    Many people have criticised Lester’s report as going too far, failing to recognise rather pertinent facts (such as the fact that many of Labour’s leaflets were just as bad) and generally being too naive and handwringing to be of any use. Personally, I would prefer to make my own mind up, but I’m certainly not going to base my opinion on the second hand rantings of someone with a quite batty agenda against a particular candidate.

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