Daily Archives: 18 October 2007

John Harris: physician, heal thyself

(argh! this post was meant to go out yesterday! why does Ming have to bloody resign during a heavy work week?)

Question: if you write an article about the Lib Dem leadership contest specifically on the issue of diversity and the fact that Huhne and Clegg are both white, middle-class males, should you a) talk to the various groupings within the party concerned with diversity such as the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, the Woman Liberal Democrats, the Campaign for Gender Balance and possibly even the party’s “diversity Tsar”? Or b) a couple of white, middle-class guys?

If your answer is (b), I suggest you’re doing something wrong. Okay, both Ben Ramm (yes, that Ben Ramm) and Lembit Opik have non-visible minority ethnicities, but then so does Clegg (and Huhne as well for that matter IIRC). What does it say about a journalist that he professes that such issues are important but can’t be bothered to reflect them in any meaningful way in his own article?

It’s not as if I disagree with his fundamental point, after all it is the subject of one of my standard-issue rants. But the ill-informed mudslinging of as partisan a journalist as John Harris won’t actually change anything, which is possibly his intention.

Bottom line, the reason there doesn’t seem to be any choice other than Huhne or Clegg is that both are bloody strong candidates. Last time around, until Huhne threw his hat in the ring I was in despair. I was torn between voting for Campbell as the anyone-but-Hughes candidate or Campbell as the anyone-but-Oaten candidate. A lot of other people agreed with me. While I have no doubt this campaign will become more bad tempered as time goes on, neither of the candidates, as far as I know, evoke that visceral sense that if he wins the party will go straight down the toilet in anyone. It’s just possible that we had a poor choice paradoxically because we have such a good choice.

And we don’t actually do too badly when it comes to not being lead by toffs. Neither Campbell or Kennedy came from arisocratic or even upper-middle-class backgrounds. The last Etonian to stand for party leader was David Rendel (a man, I hasten to add, I have a lot of time for) in 1999. He came fifth out of five.

Harris also presses another of my buttons, which I’ve only just blogged about, by referring to ‘meritocracy’ as an idea. Parliament is a meritocracy – that’s the problem. It is batshit crazy talk, the sort of batshit crazy talk that I thought Harris hated about people like Tony Blair, to suggest that you need a meritocracy to achieve equality of outcome. So why is he now stealing their rhetorical clothes?

If you want to write a serious article about the Lib Dems’ failure to internalise diversity and equality issues, John, you’re going to need to dig a lot deeper than simply having a quick chat with a celebrity boyfriend and the editor of a literary magazine.