Daily Archives: 2 November 2007

Clegg and Huhne need to pare it down to basics

The Lib Dem leadership campaign is starting to get spiky. Good, it’s past time for a bit of frankness. And while Nicholas Blincoe’s attack on Chris Huhne over on Comment is Free is ad hominem enough to make even me blush (making up a pretend speech impediment and then taking the piss out of it is in the gutter even by my standards), his criticisms of Chris Huhne’s stance on the environment aren’t a million miles from my own yesterday.

But he is wrong to complain of Huhne being schismatic. Or rather, he is wrong to express exaggerated concerns about Huhne causing a split in the party. The party’s attempts at looking every which way and being all things to all people have got us nowhere. The fact that one of Clegg’s key advisers is openly calling for as much soft soap in this contest as possible (while reserving the right to put the boot in himself) confirms my worst fears about the mushy, safe “liberal future” he appears to be promising. So much for moving out of our comfort zone.

Huhne’s manifesto contains two core elements that he should push home as much as possible over the next few weeks. The first is the People’s Veto – a brilliant populist move which happens to also be a democratic one. The second is his defence of equality. The latter guarantees that the likes of Andy Mayer and Tristan Mills won’t vote for him, but it marks him out as a centre left politician and contrasts with Clegg’s emphasis on meritocracy. It is an issue of principle that he can stand or fall on. For me – and others – it makes Clegg’s exhortation of liberalism sound hollow.

Both of these topics evoke visceral responses which is what we need in a contest like this. We have serious issues that need to be resolved. Saying we must never try resolving internal philosophical differences for fear of scaring the horses is lamentable. We will be stronger for having had a robust debate, not weaker.

Everything else in that manifesto should be junked, at least in terms of core messages. The rest of it either restates existing party policy or goes to a level of nuance that we really don’t need to be getting into. If he can’t pare it down then Blincoe will have a point: having lots of arguments on lots of topics will generate far more heat than light.

And Nick Clegg? He gets an easier task. To win my respect, all he has to come up with is one big, bold idea that it is possible to disagree with. At its heart, the fact that I haven’t heard him articulate one is what is most frustrating me about his campaign. People keep telling me he has one; that he has lots. David Boyle – someone I certainly do respect – has just joined the blogosphere and assures us that Nick has one. Everyone who knows him seems convinced that Nick has one. Yet no-one seems to want to say what it is.

Who I’m backing… for the Lib Dem Mayoral candidate

In all the excitement of the leadership contest, I’ve just realised that I never got around to endorsing anyone for the Lib Dem mayoral candidate.

Since the deadline for ballots has been extended, there are possibly 2, maybe even 3 votes out there that haven’t been cast yet, so here goes.

It’s a total no-brainer: it has to be Brian Paddick. The latest Metropolitan Police debacle says it all really. In that case Paddick showed excellent judgement under pressure – in stark contrast to his then boss – and was vindicated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s report earlier this year. He is the only candidate with actual experience of running a London-wide public authority and of the three has the best experience of London as a whole.

Chamali Fernando ran an excellent campaign and deeply impressed me. If the party doesn’t now groom her for a winnable or held Commons seat, it really has totally lost the plot. But while she would make a great candidate, I’m afraid to say I don’t have confidence in a relatively inexperienced twenty-something person running London. The next time she stands for something as well, a word of advice: don’t ever use the term “unspun” to sell yourself (which thinking about it is itself an oxymoron). It’s like “no problem” in that it alerts people to a concept that may hitherto not have been in their minds.

And you certainly should not use the phrase “unspun” in the contest of claiming to be “able to empower individuals, break routine and stampede formality”. I don’t happen to know what most of that phrase means, but I’m pretty sure it’s not entirely unrelated to spin.

Back to Paddick, if I do have a word of complaint, it is his campaign. It was lacklustre. Partly, I have heard on the grapevine, that is because of the phoney election that wasn’t and the subsequent leadership contest. But even a month ago I was disappointed by the website, which was uninspired, and his manifesto, which was concerned with making him look like a pro-forma Lib Dem candidate clone.

This isn’t how we should be selling him. His single strongest asset is his gravitas and trustworthiness. His main opponents are both clowns, particularly the shock haired freak the Tories are putting up against him. This is a real opportunity to carve out a distinctive agenda. That simply won’t happen if we treat this campaign like one big Parliamentary by-election.

Interestingly, it looks unlikely that his opponents will be able to make much of his most controversial act as a copper: downgrading the Brixton police’s handling of cannabis possession. This policy was of course a success and lead to a national policy change which has also now been shown to be a success, but all things being equal that won’t stop our opponents from trying to make hay with it (see Gordon Brown’s announcement to reverse the downgrading policy earlier in the summer).

But will Boris be able to make much of it given his jolly, libertarian image? And can you imagine cuddly Ken suddenly playing the cannabis card? They would both alienate large sections of their supporter base.

Bottom line: we have a candidate who inspires trust and has meaningful experience. That should be our key message, not nonsense about ensuring that buses don’t arrive at bus stops three in a row.

Ian Blair must go

When I logged onto Facebook a few minutes ago, I was surprised that there didn’t seem to be a group calling for Sir Ian Blair to resign, so I took the liberty of setting one up before I get invited to “Support Chris Clegg/Nick Huhne (delete as appropriate) and his heroic campaign to get rid of Sir Ian Blair”:

The Buck Stops Here

I’m utterly baffled as to why he isn’t already gone. Whatever happened to people taking responsibility for the organisation they are in charge of? The only person in public life who appears to have understood the concept of responsibility was Menzies Campbell, and his only “crime” was being too old at the wrong time.

By contrast, not only does Blair want to stay, but he wants a bonus for his troubles. His position is simply untenable.