In defence of the unknown researcher

There’s one thing I meant to blog about following the announcement of the Lib Dem leadership which up until now I haven’t got around to.

In an interview with Jon Sopel immediately after the leadership election result announcement on Tuesday, Chris Huhne yet again recited the rubric that the “Calamity Clegg” dossier was misnamed by a “junior researcher” without Huhne’s knowledge. Right now, said junior researcher is probably feeling pretty low at the moment. When your candidate is the underdog and is pipped at the post by just 511 votes, it is pretty hard to deny that things like this made a real difference. Speaking personally, I am in no doubt that if the Calamity Clegg thing hadn’t blown up in Huhne’s face he would now be leader.

But this researcher shouldn’t be made to feel all that bad about it and I hope this episode hasn’t disenchanted them. Anyone who followed the campaign will recognise that Huhne had been pushing Clegg pretty hard on his position on public services for weeks before that fateful Politics Show and it was clear that for a long time he was doing it because of a perceived electoral advantage rather than because he genuinely didn’t know the answer or thought Clegg had something to hide. That’s largely Team Clegg’s fault – they should have nipped it in the bud long before it came to a head by going on the offensive and challenging Huhne to sign up to an X-point pledge on public services. If they hadn’t been so pathologically afraid of ever going on the offensive, Huhne would never have been able to make so much headway*. Nevertheless, I do think Huhne crossed a line about a week before the Politics Day incident. If his point was about Clegg’s poor communication skills, he should have started ramming that point home. Instead what he continued to push was the suggestion that Clegg was a rabid rightwinger in disguise. That was Huhne’s mistake, not a junior researcher.

The other factor is, the more junior the researcher, the more likely it was that they were simply doing what they understood to be their job. The office culture is key. “Calamity Clegg” didn’t come from nowhere. It was almost certainly a phrase which had been going around the office, mouthed from time to time by senior team members. They were almost certainly too experienced to have made the mistake, but if they had been using that kind of language the less experienced members of their team could be forgiven for assuming it was okay to put in a press briefing.

I’ve worked in highly pressured political offices and know what its like. I’ve made horrible mistakes like this that have made me feel wretched. Fortunately, I’ve never been in such a situation whereby such mistakes get loudly condemned by senior politicians on live television. Chris sold himself on his strong management credentials, but this blame game doesn’t come across as good management to me. Leave the poor guy (or guyess) alone.

* This incident reminds me of the Hartlepool by-election campaign when Jody Dunn was left on the dangle over her now infamous blog post. What should have been a golden opportunity to turn it around and present Labour as being soft on crime and anti-social behaviour (“I’m sticking up for the people of Hartlepool who are sick of how anti-social behaviour has risen under Labour; Iain Wright is siding with the drunks and people with dangerous dogs” etc) became a noose which was draped around her neck. I have the horrible feeling that the same people who left her on the dangle were behind Clegg’s campaign as well, and none of them could be described as junior.


  1. To the extent that a man with Huhne’s level of hubris ever kicks himself – I’m sure that he knows that that dossier event was over the line and cost him at least 260 votes that would have made him the winner. But I think the fundamental error was in the defence offered by Huhne and Werrin. Even the phrase “over-zealous staff member” evoked Richard Nixon’s excuse for his Watergate dirty tricks.

    Ultimately you have to ask yourself how probable was it that a briefing that was being sent to the producer of the Politics Show (on which he was due to appear two days later) could ever be sent out to such an important media outlet without a senior figure in the campaign giving a cursory glance – if only to check the spellings etc.

    So the claim that neither he nor anyone senior knew about it was either not credible (making Huhne a liar) or true but revealing of gross incompetence.

    My guess is that Huhne preferred people to think of him as a liar with very sharp elbows rather than incompetent.

    That incident allowed people outside our party to call us “nasty”. I am glad Nick won. But I warn him. Don’t trust Huhne. He will be holding a giant dagger and the resentment of a man who deep down, underneath it all, in the quiet of the night…. loves himself very passionately.

  2. I’m not sure that anyone with a festering grudge such as your own Penelope is in any position to judge to what extent Huhne will be willing to move on from this episode. Are you really giving us your clear cut analysis or looking into a mirror and finding yourself?

    Get over it. I’m sure Chris and Nick will.

  3. Not convinced by your what-if analysis. Chris gave every indication of continuing the same negative strategy unabashed, and there was always the risk of it blowing up in his face, sooner or later, one way or another. Or it might have continued to the end of the campaign, with more bitterness all round.

    The Huhne campaign by all accounts (or perhaps by spun accounts) had a good finish – so the change of tack midway did it some good. If that hadn’t happened, Nick’s majority might have been much bigger.

    Maybe I am wrong, but there is surely considerable room for doubt.

  4. Well, hello again Penelope. I see you’re back to describing yourself as a Liberal Democrat member (“our party”); strange then that in our email correspondence you refused to provide any evidence that you are a party member isn’t it?

  5. Not sure about the “what if” also. When phone canvassing either it didn’t change people’s minds or they said “well at least it shows that Huhne is tough” in the way he dealt with it and perhaps even by the inference that he was behind it.

    I think this researcher has a much bigger burden than possibly snatching defeat from victory for Huhne – it is now clear that they are a Doris Day fan – that is a much bigger lifelong burden to carry.

  6. James – thanks for wondering if I was looking into a mirror. Alas I don’t suffer from the same absence of Low-Self Esteem as Mr. Huhne. So I’m not quite as passionate about myself as Huhne is about himself.

    I don’t hide my animus towards him. But held for good reasons. Since I admire you as a writer – I would be grateful if you would put your suspicions about my motives to one side (at least for a moment) and please address the issue of whether you feel Huhne and Werrin were being truthful when they said that such an important document was sent without senior supervision. It speaks to credibility/competence.

    Joe – you are correct. There IS room for doubt.

    Mark Pack: Why hello again. You are correct that you eventually demanded my party membership number before publishing a post on LibDemVoice – even though the site makes no statement that one has to do so. Or even be a member to post. Of course you only asked for my membership number after various other pretexts were given by you for not posting my comment. But that’s your prerogative. And mine – as a Liberal Party member since the late 1960’s is to not respond to such hostile and illiberal demands. “I don’t believe in that sort of thing – I’m a Liberal”

    I note that you too refuse to address the issues I raise. Are you SURE you’re not a closet Labourite or Tory? We true Liberals are not afraid to discuss uncomfortable issues. It’s what makes us better than the other parties…

  7. Ooh, nice dodge again Penelope 🙂 If you will insist on claiming that you’re a party member, why not produce some evidence to back up that claim?

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