Tag Archives: ben-ramm

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.

Reflections on the fall of Chairman Campbell

In light of yesterday’s events, I suppose people must think I look rather foolish for taking the Observer to task over its reporting of the plot against Ming.

Fair enough, but my point still holds. Both of those articles suggested that MPs were plotting a coup, yet neither of them included a direct quote from an MP saying as much or gave any details as to how the journalist came by that information. I still think that is pretty unacceptable.

We appear to have gone beyond the usual practice of anonymous briefings to the press now to a system whereby journalists and their sources communicate by a complicated system of winks, nods and facial tics. The rest of us are left out in the cold, not knowing to what extent the stories we read in our papers are actually true or simply the fevered imaginings of a hack with a deadline. Even the old conventions of “sources close to X” has now gone out of the window as journalists compete to make their claims sound more sensational. And this is in the broadsheets.

I don’t ask for the identity of the knife wielders, merely more evidence that such knife wielders do indeed exist. In the case of this particular story all speculation on this is now of course moot, but it won’t be the last time.

Anyway, so much for that. I see MPs are now lining up to say nice things about Ming on the record. My favourite quote is from Mike Hancock:

“I think he was shafted by a complete shower of shits.”

What a charming mental picture, just don’t try picturing it too hard.

The thing I will find the most depressing over the next few days is that we are now to be greeted with a hagiographic account of Ming’s abilities and achievements which will be as ridiculous and overblown as the accounts immediately before which portrayed him as a dithering old dunderhead. The meeja doesn’t do things by halves. And just as we were getting resignations over many of Ming’s less than stellar performances over the months, expect another wave of them now. It just seems as if for so many people politics has become nothing more or less than a circus; they’re just waiting to be entralled and appalled.

Actually, the most depressing thing over the next few days will be seeing, hearing and reading media interviews with Ben Ramm once again claiming to be the authentic voice of Lib Dem activism. He’s going to be unbearable, isn’t he? Just thinking about it makes me want to open a vein. I bet he’s been rubbing his hands with glee all evening.

So, in an effort to pre-empt the influx of these stories, I have only this to say:


Got that? No? Oh well, it was worth a try.

Oh, and true story: the guy who served me in McDonalds yesterday was called Ming. He got my order wrong. Ho hum.

Ben Ramm doesn’t speak for me

I feel the need to point this fact out because whenever a journalist wants a rentaquote to be rude about the party leader, they not only trot out Ben Ramm but they insist that he publishes “a magazine for Liberal Democrat activists“.

If he does, he keeps quite quiet about it. The Liberal is a literary magazine which occasionally has dalliances with politics but is more concerned with poetry. All fine and dandy (with emphasis on the dandy), but the truth is it is largely ignored by Lib Dem activists. The closest we have to a magazine for Lib Dem activists is Liberator, and they don’t speak for me either.

Ramm of course, knows all this. Far from it being explained away as simple journalist laziness, his ubiquity in articles about the Lib Dems’ woes is down to an editorial policy of deliberately using journalists’ ignorance about the magazine’s standing in the party with a view to gaining free advertising. He isn’t interested, and never has been, in advancing the Lib Dem project. Everything he has ever written about the party is simply polemic. He has only ever seen the party as a tool for self-promotion. That’s his prerogative; but its my prerogative to point this out whenever he pops up again.

We should remember that Ben Ramm organised a campaign to get rid of Charles Kennedy. He did this by making extremely exaggerated claims about the level of support his online petition had received from party activists, again using the veneer of the magazine as a “voice of activists” to lend it some credibility.

Now, regardless of whether you love or loathe Ming Campbell, no-one can deny that the way his predecessor was dispatched was, to say the least, unfortunate and that the subsequent election for leader was necessarily more rushed than it should have been. That was why many of us were keen to keep our powder dry until later in 2006 (and why I seem to recall turning down Ramm’s request to run his anti-Kennedy petition site).

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of all this therefore – and now I appreciate the enormity of the Kennedy problem which was not wholly apparent to those of us outside of the Westminster bubble at the time – one thing Ben Ramm can’t do is absolve himself of any responsibility for the coronation of Ming Campbell. Even a shred of mea culpa would be nice, but that would appear too much to ask.

None of this would annoy me if The Liberal was genuinely committed to making a meaningful contribution to the debate surrounding the development of the party, but it manifestly isn’t. Indeed, in this Independent quote he appears more concerned with approvingly pushing David Cameron’s stock phrases (“a broken society” et al) than anything else.