Take it down, Chris (UPDATE)

Oh dear, and he was doing so well.

Linda Jack and Charlotte Gore have condemned Chris Huhne’s campaign for publishing an endorsement by Chris Clarke which contains a blatant attack on Nick Clegg, branding him a Tory (unless there is a third candidate of whom I was previously unaware). It’s negative. It’s untrue.

Up until now I’ve not been that fussed about the level of yah-boo in this contest. A lot of Chris’ attempts to define himself have been leapt upon by his opponents as implicit attacks on Nick Clegg. I don’t think that is fair, and having spoken to members of his campaign team I’m very conscious of how keen (at least some of them) are to make this a fair fight.

But as Charlotte says, this is crossing a line. It has handed Chris’ opponents to take the gloves off themselves. He ought to take that quote down immediately, and not use Chris Clarke on any of his subsequent publicity materials.

UPDATE: The offending quote has been taken down. I still think the damage has been done and that the whole post should be taken down as a symbolic gesture, but at least it suggests they’re listening. Power of the blog, eh?

UPDATE 2: Another comment has now been added acknowledging that the article has been edited and that Anna Werrin is taking responsibility, which is much better and will hopefully defuse the situation. As Sam writes below, it does seem to have been cock up rather than conspiracy (although as someone who has chronicled Team Clegg’s various cock ups over the weeks, I have to say such things shouldn’t be treated too lightly).

32 thoughts on “Take it down, Chris (UPDATE)

  1. James, I wouldn’t have used Chris Clarke’s language, but how is it not legitimate to express a concern that certain policy stances seem to be far too close to an alternative (and largely alien) political philosophy? I don’t want us to become “another Tory Party” either, whether I agree with CC’s assessment or not that we may be heading there. For goodness’ sake, if this sort of thing were prohibited, much of the columns of Liberator would quite simply be empty space.

  2. If Chris (Huhne) really believes that Nick Clegg will turn us into another Tory party then of course he should stand by Clarke’s quote. I disagree, largely because I think Nick Clegg has hopelessly compromised himself by accepting endorsements from across the whole party spectrum, and I would be amazed if Huhne didn’t recognise that too.

    On that basis, to keep the Clarke quote would be disingenuous. Either way, not taking it down demonstrates a lapse in judgment in my view.

    Oh, and much as I am an avid reader of Liberator, I can think of very few things worse than giving The Collective control over the party.

  3. Er,

    Clicking on the link I can’t see what the fuss is about! Maybe the wording has been altered.

    Of course the PR/spin machine running Nick’s campaign seems to be quite happy to put out (unattributably) very negative messages, but Charlotte and Linda seem to be silent on this. I doubt much of what they’re doing is being done with Nick’s knowledge, but people like Charlotte asking for a ‘clean contest’ should be under no illusions as to what’s being done in their candidate’s name, particularly the spinning of messages as ‘negative’ when they are palpably not.

  4. Hmmm – and by withdrawing it they garner more publicity than it might have gathered in the first case.

    It’s a pretty old and rather shoddy trick.

  5. Looks like cock up rather than conspiracy to me.

    At least Anna Werrin is willing to accept responsibility.

    Gareth is right though – it hasn’t all been on the one side. Linda Jack herself published a link to a wholly unjustified attack on Huhne in one of the newspapers.

  6. I read the quote first hand this morning and would not have blogged about it if I hadn’t. In fact, it’s a bit of an insult to my intelligence to imply that I didn’t. Whether or not the Cleggheads were being put up to denouncing it or not, Huhne’s team left themselves vulnerable.

    Gareth’s wider point however is true: someone was putting it about that Chris Huhne stabbed Ming in the back early in the campaign and it is hard not to let one’s eyes wander toward’s Team Clegg (“outrageous! a disgraceful slur! never in my life…” etc. etc.). Someone put Nicolas Blincoe up to writing what is possibly the most personalised attack from any Lib Dem on either candidate on Comment is Free last week. The fact that Blincoe was keen to emphasise his role as one of Clegg’s advisers suggests that he at least thought he was writing ex cathedra.

  7. Ummm, Gareth, you didn’t happen to notice the following text at the page:

    “This endorsement has been edited as it previously contained some comments which could not be endorsed by Chris Huhne or his campaign team – for which I apologise: Anna Werrin.”

  8. A lot have people seem to be under the impression that my post (and perhaps Linda Jacks) is part of an organised and official line of ‘spin’ from Clegg’s team.

    I want to confirm that I am acting independently, and that my reaction is my own and there’s absolute no evidence to suspect anything else.

    People are capable of independently coming to the same conclusions…

  9. “someone was putting it about that Chris Huhne stabbed Ming in the back early in the campaign”

    That story certainly circulated, but it was pretty sotto voce. Journalists generally know who is doing the briefing. Running a quote from Chris Clarke is hardly a means to denying it – and perhaps reflects a view from the Huhne camp that it has not been made an issue with the membership as a whole.

    Anyway the comment is down now. Well done.

  10. I agree, the quote was over the top, and I felt uncomfortable reading it on Huhne’s web site. Chris Clarke is entitled to express his strong feelings, but they shouldn’t have been given this sort of promotion by the Huhne campaign, I think it damages rather than helps that campaign.

    However, there is an important point – there are significant people in the party who really do dislike Clegg intensely, and maybe Chris Clarke was just being a bit too honest in expressing his opinion. I don’t think there are quite so many in the Clegg camp who dislike Huhne with the same intensity.

    So the choice is between someone who probably has majority support in the party (I’ve met enough people now in the party to be fairly sure Clegg is ahead) but has intense opposition from a minority, and someone who has less strong support, but also less strong opposition. So electing Clegg as leader is likely to cause division and the retirement from activity of a fair number of people, while electing Huhne won’t.

  11. Mark, you raise a good point. The danger of going negative during this leadership election is that it quite seriously alienates supporters of the target.

    We do, as a group, tend to take criticisms of our guy quite personally don’t we?

    Can’t be helped. If you agree with someone and then they’re slammed for their opinions you take it as a slam on your own.

    I’m really glad the quote has been taken down. I am concerned about the difficulty of pulling the party back together after this too.

  12. `So the choice is between someone who probably has majority support in the party (I’ve met enough people now in the party to be fairly sure Clegg is ahead) but has intense opposition from a minority, and someone who has less strong support, but also less strong opposition. So electing Clegg as leader is likely to cause division and the retirement from activity of a fair number of people, while electing Huhne won’t.`

    Erm – no not really. If you take away the hysterics those in favour of Clegg might argue that this is an excellent opportunity for the party to stake out new ground – after all there is more than one way to skin a cat.

    Yes I prefer in some ways Chris’s stances (though his flagship policy fell away on the scantest of observations) – however purist stances like these don’t win us any more votes. I do though want to be challenged, I WANT the wider electorate to be challenged and thus some in Labour and Conservatives to be offended.

    The problem i have with Chris is that he seems to employ a divisive `us and them` approach – ie you are either with my stances or against them. I’m more interested in the us and them approach with our rabid detractors in Tory/Labour. We won’t reach them by simplyb reasserting purist doctrine but by new ideas – refashioning the Liberal/Centre/Progressive Left ground – creating OUR vernacular and agenda.

    That is in essence how i see it.

  13. I can think of very few things worse than giving The Collective control over the party.

    The party being taken over by people who think like me being one of them? ;)

    (I’d agree with that myself… People who think like me aren’t suited to running a party…)

  14. I think it is fair to say that Huhne has been a bit too divisive in his approach. But Clegg has been too consensual. You say you want new ideas, but how will they arise if Clegg spends all his time trying to be all things to all people. You may agree with Huhne or disagree with him, but at least you have a much better idea of where he stands on things.

    Being able to establish a clear and distinct identity is one of the skills a leader must have. Clegg has made it clear that he understands that but has not demonstrated in this campaign that he is capable of doing it.

  15. Tristan: I don’t think I do “think like Liberator”. I disagree on The Collective’s line on a number of things, not least of all their assertion that a leader on no accounts must be permitted to lead.

  16. A member of the Liberator Collective writes:

    James said, “I disagree on The Collective’s line on a number of things, not least of all their assertion that a leader on no accounts must be permitted to lead.”

    I do not recall this being Liberator’s “line”. We regularly subject the leadership to healthy criticism, partly because this leadership is sometimes abused, but also because it is often not exercised effectively. It’s more a question of what one regards as leadership, I suppose.

    But this is straying off topic. I just wanted to put the record straight.

    Blatant plug: subscribe now! http://www.liberator.org.uk

  17. Where I demur from what I regard as a pretty consistent line is the argument that the leader must never intervene in policy debates as that is giving a steer and bullying the party into line. While I accept that every time a leader does this it costs them political capital (and they risk failing, which is also pretty bad news from the POV of the party’s image), sometimes that is precisely what a leader should be doing.

  18. There is nothing wrong with leaders leading and thereby giving a steer. It’s the bullying I object to.

    I object to the widely held assumption that a party leader necessarily leads in opposition to his party rather than at the head of it. The idea that a leader demonstrates his leadership qualities primarily by taking on and defeating his own party rather than seeking to inspire it.

    More precisely, I object to the tactic regularly employed since David Steel’s time, where a particular policy line is spun as a “test of leadership”… “irresponsible and unrepresentative activists”… “grassroots troublemakers”… “beards and sandals”… we all know the script and we all know it’s bollocks.

    I agree that the problem with leadership interventions in policy debates is that they use up political capital and should be used sparingly. But do we really need the abuse of procedures and personal insults that invariably accompany such interventions?

  19. “You may agree with Huhne or disagree with him, but at least you have a much better idea of where he stands on things.”

    I have a doubt as to whether he is saying what he believes. The Huhne-bomb was a case in point. It seemed to be a policy adopted for the sake of the election rather than a firmly-held conviction. I might be wrong, of course – I am not arguing that he is lying, just that there is room for uncertainty.

    I think you are spot on in your Liberator critique – and I was one of Steel’s targets at the time.

  20. Come come, Simon, you know as well as I do how these things work. The gentlest steer from a party leader is going to be spun in the media as a “test of leadership”, whether it is the party doing the spinning or not.

    You are right about the anti-activist rhetoric that noises off indulge in all too often, but that’s a different matter. I’m not aware of that sort of spin happening during the Ming tenure (Chucky bum was a different matter). Yes, there were a few wallies banging on about Clause 4 moments, but for some people that is the political equivalent of Tourette’s. It wasn’t coming from Ming, but Liberator repeatedly took him to task for having an opinion on things all the same.

  21. In response to my concern that the election of Clegg might cause some in the party to cease activity in it, John writes:

    If you take away the hysterics those in favour of Clegg might argue that this is an excellent opportunity for the party to stake out new ground

    which is as near as dammit to admitting that Clegg supporters want to engineer the departure from the party of those they disagree with.

    John then goes on to talk about “purist” and clearly means it to be pejorative. But why is Huhne denounced as a “purist” and Clegg not? Is not Clegg equally proposing himself as the promoter of pure liberalism? Isn’t his strong stand on ID cards just as “purist” anything Huhne has said?

    John then goes on to say, in a paragraph headed “the problem I have with Chris”

    We won’t reach them by simply reasserting purist doctrine but by new ideas

    Er, so what if the difference between a “purist” and a “new” idea? Looks like it might be it’s purist if Huhne says it, and new if Clegg says it.

    Now here comes to my continuing problem with the Clegg campaign. It’s full of rhetoric on new ideas and “refashioning the agenda” and the like, but short of illustrating what it actually means by that. Huhne has given us policy ideas, like them or not, Clegg largely hasn’t. But Clegg’s rhetoric about challenge and comfort zones continues to give the suspicion that he has ideas in plenty he wishes to force on the party, just he won’t tell us what they are until he gets to be leader.

    Clegg has been written up as a “Tory”, and his supporters have said that’s unfair, but he’s done nothing to allay the fears that at least on some issues he’s intending to take the party onto the grounds marked out by the Conservative Party since 1979 – it’s Tory economics, even if we can accept it’s liberalism on the classic Home Affairs stuff.

    There have been influential voices in the media – by and large Conservative Party supporters – who want to engineer politics so that right-wing economics goes without question, and political debate is centred on the liberal v. conservative issues which aren’t economic. Since I’ve started looking at LibDem blogs, I can see there’s a groundswell of members in our party who also seem to think that way as well. They remind me rather of the Trots of old, simple minded people who are attracted to a simple-minded agenda which gives them all the solutions, and makes them look oh-so-clever – but which is really fighting the battles of a few decades ago and ignoring the pressing problems of the world today which are actually to a large extent caused by a milder version of the ideology they wish to impose on us.

    Clegg needs to say enough to convince me he isn’t part of this. He hasn’t yet.

  22. Quite by accident, this seems to have gravitated from a squabble about dirty tricks to becoming a much more interesting side-discussion about what people think leadership is, or should be.

    For my part, I’ve long been a follower of the Daniel Goleman philosophy – the key attribute of a successful leader is the ability to resonate: to not only communicate ideas and persuade people of their merits, but to attract an attachment or following based on capturing and embodying a strong emotional feeling: anger, fear, hurt. This suggestion chimes strongly with the arguments made in the recent political libre de jour, The Political Brain.

    It also explains the success of Margaret Thatcher – although many people disagreed with her rabid monetarism and Little Englanderism, she captured a prevailing mood of people being fed up with Britain being considered a backward country that couldn’t run a tombola without the unions crippling everything. She appealed to a latent desire. Blair did the same with New Labour – people were desperate for a moderate alternative to the tired, sleazy, navel-gazing Tories of the ’90s and TB gave people what they wanted, coupled with a generational change and a bit more glitz and glamour.

    Nothing I’ve seen or heard from Nick so far has even hinted at an ability to resonate. He is sensible, doesn’t want to offend, is an easy conversationalist, and tells a very good joke about Clement Freud: but I don’t see how this amounts to an ability to reach out to new supporters (which is the main argument I’ve heard from the Clegg camp for their boy).

    Chris, on the other hand, is making a fist of it. His ideas are strongly liberal (rather than purist), but he is trying to set out a stall which taps into a prevalent public state of disaffection – against public service targets from the centre, against perceived favouritism for friends of the Labour Party, against making personal freedom an easy target for the instinctive centralisers.

    I’m a Chris supporter, although I recognise Nick’s strengths. I agree with James that this contest hasn’t seen a real policy debate yet, as it seems Chris is trying to kick-start one but Nick isn’t answering back (probably because he thinks he’s the front-runner and doesn’t want to rock the boat). It’s easy to say Chris is up to dirty tricks, but it’s just as easy to believe that Chris thinks the party deserves a debate of ideas, and is frustrated at the one-sided nature of things so far. In those circumstances, I would also be tempted to give Nick (in football terms) “a nudge in the back” to see what Clegg’s reaction is. If he’s so good at communication under fire from the Tories and Labour, shouldn’t he have a good response?

  23. I have always been a Nick fan- I value his intellect combined with his ability to communicate complicated ideas simply- but he really has to be more balls-out on more issues than ID cards. My problem with Huhne is that I think he is prone to cheap populism (like over Trident) and I don’t see the public warming to him. He the safe choice in that he speaks to activists rather than the public. Clegg, though, really needs to revamp his campaign team, start using some sharp elbows and show that he can throw bombs at the government in a way that will get us into the news.

    By the way, why does Clarke and the angry members always accuse people of being Tories? I don’t think that anyone has accused Huhne or that wing of the party of being closet Campaign Group members, unless I have missed anything. It’s all so puerile.

  24. Ooh! Lots to chew over!

    Matthew: I find it fascinating how while we are both Clegg-sceptic we come to startlingly different conclusions. You keep painting him as the enemy within; my own feeling is that he is the “safety” candidate who will spend far too much jumping every time he sees his own shadow to advance any sinister plot to turn the Lib Dems into a Tory party. If only he had the brass neck that you credit him with, he’d have won my vote weeks ago.

    Derek: I hear what you say, and Huhne demonstrated that ability to resonate in our interview with him earlier this week (part 2 of which I’ll get posted tonight). But I do think Clegg is a much stronger communicator than you give him credit.

    Simon: the Trident thing wasn’t populism (a policy has to be popular before it is populist!), but it was certainly a political miscalculation. It is reassuring to hear frustration from a Clegghead about the weaknesses of Team Clegg though.

  25. James. you misunderstand my point. I’m not saying that Clegg is the “enemy within”, only that he comes with that reputation, which he’s done nothing to deny, and he did nothing to deny it from his early days as an MP when press stirring had him down as a potential defector to the Conservative Party.

    Simon – why is is that when Huhne speaks about policies, it’s “speaking to the activists”, but when Clegg gives pep-talks to the party it’s “speaking to the public”. It strikes me that if anything, it’s the other way round. The public aren’t interested in a LibDem saying “we LibDems shouldn’t be content to be in third place”, but they might be interested in a LibDem saying “we shouldn’t keep Trident”.

    As to why no-one’s accusing Huhne and his supporters of being closet members of the Campaign Group, well I’m not aware of it ever being suggested that Huhne or his supporters endorse a socialist style economy with large scale nationalisations. One might accuse them of being social democrats as the term was understood in the 1980s – which now means well to the left of New Labour of course … After all, Huhne HAS obtained the support of the most of the SDP old-timers, and interestingly, of people like me who were resolutely against those people back in those days.

  26. Matthew – I don’t think he does come with that reputation. He’s been labeled as an economic liberal, and I suppose I’ve never thought of him as having the same position as me, but I’ve never personally heard him talked of as a Tory in disguise. For that matter, once the Orange Book debacle had calmed down, I wouldn’t even regard David Laws as being a Tory in disguise.

    As for what the press has said about him, they don’t normally get much further or detailed than “he’s the Lib Dem’s messiah!”

    Your argument makes no sense. You might just as well claim that he has a reputation as a rapist “which he’s done nothing to deny”. Personally speaking I try my best to keep my prejudices in check and I’d advise you do the same.

  27. In reply to James’s last but one message (“I’m not aware of that sort of spin happening during the Ming tenure… It wasn’t coming from Ming, but Liberator repeatedly took him to task for having an opinion on things all the same”).

    “That sort of spin” did happen during Ming’s tenure, during the Trident debate. Liberator did not criticise Ming for holding an opinion per se but for supporting a policy that we thought was wrong. We also reported in detail the various underhand tactics used by the leadership both before and during the conference (see Liberator 317 (April 2007), page 4, to read our report: http://www.liberator.org.uk/article.asp?id=107804014).

  28. No, plenty of press reports had him down as a potential defector to the Tories. Now, I quite agree this is probably just press stirring, and press misunderstanding of the Liberal Democrats, so tat they can only see us in terms of the other two parties.

    Nevertheless, these reports were on the basis that at least on economic policy, he was close to the Conservative Party, even if he differed on other issues. Some of us aren’t that keen on gung-ho free marketeering, and think that a rather major aspect of Toryism we don’t like. We rather feel that the old slogan “none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” is a riposte to those who suppose liberalism is mainly a matter of freedom for money.

    Whether or not he likes it, Clegg HAS got that reputation. A few well-chosen words could have quashed it. He has chosen not to issue such words.

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