Daily Archives: 12 July 2009

Have the Lib Dems lost the plot in Norwich?

If I were a Green Party member, I’d be ashamed to have a candidate like Rupert Read. Aside from being a bit of a whinger, while he likes to claim the moral high ground he isn’t above telling the odd lie here and there, such as his repeated insistance that the Lib Dems supported the Iraq war (there is also this incident).

His initiative of a “clean campaign pledge” is both extremely cynical – essentially putting himself as final arbitrator of what is clean and what isn’t (the pledge is cunningly worded so that he can continue telling lies about other parties, so long as he “honestly” believes it) while paradoxically manages to be extremely naive in that it is now being used as propaganda by the Tories (one thing that is particularly telling is that whilst bragging about signing this pledge, Rupert’s newfound friend Chloe isn’t above making some vague innuendo-laden smears of her own).

By the same token, I have been generally happy with what I’ve seen of the Lib Dem conduct of this campaign. I think some Lib Dem activists invest mystical properties in the Power of the Bar Chart as much as their critics and wonder if it is really that useful putting out lots of leaflets with the national result of this year’s local elections on them, but by the same token I don’t accept that is misleading: people have rather more common sense than that.

But one aspect of this campaign does concern me, and that has been the emphasis that seems to have been placed in the campaign in attacking the Greens generally and Rupert Read in particular. A couple of weeks ago there were reports that the party had branded Read as an “extremist” in a press release. In and of itself that was unfortunate, but you could at least dismiss it as a one-off action by an over-enthusiastic press officer.

However, it appears the same language has now appeared in a campaign leaflet:

From the Lib Dem campaign leaflet on Twitpic

(the full – pfff – “magazine” can be found here)

Is Rupert Read really an “extremist”? I don’t know him well enough to draw a conclusion. But I’d need stronger evidence than some vague allusion to him saying something unfortunate about 7/7 – especially when I would go at least partially along with what he is alleged to have said (for the record, I do think we made ourselves a target for terrorist attacks by invading Iraq – if anyone would like to have me thrown out of the party for believing that, the address is 4 Cowley Street, London SW1P 3NB).

And even if he was an “extremist”, unless he said something truly outrageous, I’d be very wary of calling him that and would focus more on what he had said than the fact that unnamed “people” “are turning against him.”

Last but not least, I simply don’t understand why the party is attacking him at all. On paper, the party is going into this by-election in third place – with the Greens not so very far behind. If the goal is to get first or second place, then part of the strategy should be to bring Green supporters on board. By all means point out that they don’t have a chance of winning, but don’t waste any time talking about them – and certainly don’t refer to their candidate by name. You won’t persuade Green voters to switch their vote by attacking their party – the most that will achieve is encourage them to stay at home on polling day.

What this leaflet suggests to me is that the real goal in the campaign isn’t to win, or even get a good second place, but to ensure that the Greens don’t overtake and put the Lib Dems in fourth place. That isn’t a campaign I would personally be the slightest bit interested in fighting and – notwithstanding how marginally useful it might be for neighbouring target seats – it is frankly a waste of resources.

The Lib Dems are trashing their own brand each time they indulge in this sort of nastiness and we no longer live in a world where we can expect the odd leaflet like this to be ignored by the outside world. Projects like The Straight Choice exist to challenge that.

Generally, the Lib Dems have a respectable record when it comes to campaigning. We certainly have never suggested one of our opponents is a rapist for example. But there have far too many examples of bad practice and the myth that the Lib Dems are more dirty than their opponents has gained currency within political circles (partly because it is a convenient one for our opponents to push). It is high time the party centrally recognised how dangerous this could be for our future prospects.