Tag Archives: Chris-Huhne

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.

The verdict on Huhne and Clegg’s fuzzy polls

Oh dear, it’s all starting to get very silly indeed.

First of all, there is this “independent” poll put out by Team Huhne, which indicates a huge surge for Huhne in the last few days. I emailed them to ask the identity of these pollsters, only to be asked to ring Anna Werrin (Huhne’s campaign manager). If you can’t tell me who they are by email, I can’t blog it. It all sounds a bit whiffy to me.

Then there is Team Clegg, assuring us that they’ve canvassed 11,000 and that the 8,000 who have expressed a preference have come out 60-40 for Clegg. Hmmm… that’s a lot of “antis”, most of whom you can probably put down as Huhne supporters. Put that raw data through anything resembling the Richmond formula (they aren’t telling to what extent this canvass data is breaking down into “hard” and “soft” support, unsurprisingly) and I think you’ll find it ends up much closer. Come on lads, we’ve all done canvassing 101 haven’t we?

Speaking personally, my instincts tell me that Clegg will win, but that it will be close. Anecdotally, Huhne seems to be going down much better with older members and there are a lot of those. The YouGov poll is particularly dubious because although Peter Kellner has been keen to point out that it has been weighted according to age, it doesn’t appear to take into account the likelihood that those who aren’t following this election online (i.e. people who don’t vote in YouGov polls) are likely to be experiencing a very different election compared with those of us – of whatever age – who are.

On the other hand, there is the donkey vote factor, the same factor that saw MEPs getting reselected with 70-90% of the vote last month. Faced with that big long list of the great and good that Clegg has behind him, I find it hard to believe a lot of armchair members won’t unthinkingly vote for him regardless of anything else. The only reason I don’t think that will be as big a factor as it could be is that Team Clegg appear to consider pushing out paper to be beneath them, while Team Huhne have been putting much more out.

So I think Huhne will improve on his 42% last time, but not quite well enough. Either way, the victor had better recognise that they have a lot to prove to pretty much half of the party. It won’t be much of a mandate, so don’t expect an easy ride folks!

Clegg and Huhne on Today: the verdict

I’ve just been listening to Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne’s head-to-head on the Today Programme. For a Cleggite, it made for pretty uncomfortable listening.

While I think Clegg was significantly better than Huhne at the hustings last week, the broadcast media is the real battleground in the struggle to win the hearts and minds of the public. And once again, Clegg came off as dramatically weaker than Huhne.

The difference was obvious. Huhne trotted off a series of clear and concise soundbites while Clegg waffled. It isn’t as if this problem hasn’t been remarked upon before; why hasn’t Clegg sorted it out?

And the problem goes a little deeper. Huhne has spent the last week at the centre of the party funding scandal for doing little more than opportunistically reporting the whole Abrahamsgate affair to the police. He even used those sharp elbows of his to get in on the BBC’s report on Vince Cable’s desire to appear on Strictly Come Dancing. Clegg meanwhile has only popped up to declare that he is expecting to win – a process story.

My entirely anecdotal evidence suggests that most over-40s I know seem to be coming out for Huhne. Given the over-representation of young people contributing to it, I am doubtful that YouGov’s poll over the weekend should have given Clegg quite as strong a position as it should have. Either way, he isn’t giving any late voters any strong reasons to vote for him.

Assuming he does get elected however, I do hope he will spend the Christmas break working out where he went wrong over the campaign and getting some serious media training.

Vince Cable’s sharp elbows

See if you can spot the remarkable thing about this BBC News story:

Discs ‘worth £1.5bn’ to criminals

Two missing computer discs containing the personal details of 25 million people could be worth up to £1.5bn to criminals, say the Lib Dems.

Acting leader Vincent Cable told MPs an “enormous amount” was still at stake, after discs containing the entire child benefit database got lost in transit.

Ministers say there is no evidence they have been intercepted by criminals.

But in a Tory-led debate on the issue shadow chancellor George Osborne asked if the “whole truth” had been told.

Did you spot it? Yes, that’s right – the debate was Tory-led, yet it is the Lib Dems who got top billing.

What I don’t understand is how Vince manages to do this so effortlessly while his predecessor (and Kennedy for that matter) always had the opposite problem, with the Tories stealing our press.

To be fair on Chris Huhne, his sharp elbows are on full display today as well. Rumours that he has affected a soft Western Isles accent and started voting for homophobic legislation have yet to be confirmed (joke).

Blincoe-ing idiot

As people know, I’ve now come out as a Nick Clegg supporter (indeed I’ve already voted for him). Speaking therefore in the spirit of collegiality, could Team Clegg please lean on their “advisor” Nicolas Blincoe and get him to shut the fuck up?

Apart from anything else, his latest intervention is a week out of date. We’d actually nipped this one in the bud; surely the last thing that either campaign team needs right now is to turn the temperature up again?

That he is one of the people who before last week’s Politics Show was actively trying to lower the tone of debate is one thing; for him to suggest that Huhne is a liar is quite another. I would personally gain no small amount of personal satisfaction in seeing Huhne go on to sue him for libel (I’m surprised the Guardian is confident enough of his claims to publish).

If blinking idiots like this are the brains behind the Clegg campaign, it is no surprise that it has been widely criticised for its ineptitude. Definitely time to Move On, folks.

Clegg or Huhne? Quaequam Blog! comes off the fence

Leaving aside the superficial similarities, what emerges are two very different personalities coming at this campaign at a very different point in their lives and focusing on very different priorities. Huhne invokes Bill Clinton when he states that it’s the economy (stupid); Clegg talks about how the economy-focused politics of the 1970s and 80s are now long dead and buried. Huhne talks about devolution, of bringing government closer to people; Clegg talks about empowerment, of giving people more direct control over the public services they use.

Huhne talks about raising spending-per-pupil to public school levels within two parliaments; Clegg talks about raising spending on poorer students to public school levels within a single parliament. Huhne talks about how a single event – such as a mild winter in Canada and a drought in Australia – could ensure that the environment shoots up the public’s list of priorities; Clegg talks about meeting the public’s concerns about our environmental policies head on in the hear and now. Huhne wants to talk about Trident; Clegg would rather talk about son of Star Wars.

Which way do I jump? You’ll have to go to Comment is Free to find out.

Nick Clegg: video killed the media star?

I’ve finally got around to watching Thursday night’s Question Time Lib Dem leadership hustings. Not much for me to add that hasn’t already been said by so many others. It was no knock out, but the clear consensus (which I agree with) is that Huhne won on points although Clegg recovered well in the second half. In the interests of balance though, I have to agree with Aaron Heath at Liberal Conspiracy: Huhne’s tie should be tried at the Hague for crimes against humanity.

I’m always being told that Huhne is boring and dry. He wasn’t on Thursday. He managed to combine passion and principle with clarity and intellect. Even at his best, Clegg only really scored highly on the first two.

I’m beginning to think that it may be TV that will do for Clegg. What’s clear is that while people like myself have been quick to point out that he’s a media star, it’s the newspapers – not the broadcasters – who are saying that. The Guardian has come out for him this weekend, but failed to come up with a good reason why. Apparently he is “fluent” – well, he hasn’t been fluent in either of his major TV tests so far, unless that fluency is in waffle.

Paradoxically, while the print media is more biased it can also be more forgiving of politicians’ shortcomings. Fluff a line in a newspaper interview and the journalist will always accept your second “take”. Fluff a line on live television on the other hand and it’s there for all to see. Steve Richards, newspaper journalist would never have exposed Nick Clegg in the way that Steve Richards, television interviewer did without even trying.

Clegg must surely realise this. Why then did he allow himself to get blindsided by Dimbleby’s interjection about an article he wrote during the last leadership election when he accused Huhne of opportunism. Surely there’s someone on his campaign team working on rebuttal? Like the tax fluff the week before, this should have been swatted away with ease.

Indeed, it is interesting to watch how Clegg dealt with Dimblebum: in short he didn’t. While Huhne was always quick to interject and get the last word (with those “sharp elbows” of his he was telling us about last week) and treated Dimblebum as a steam roller would a bicycle, Clegg kept listening to him, getting steered off course.

Daniel Finklestein is at least one print journalist for whom the penny is starting to drop:

Clegg is an intelligent and charming man, which is why journalists generally like him, but he seemed lightweight and uncomfortable last night. He hadn’t very good lines to take and his position on Trident (almost the only substantive thing he said) is incoherent.

This is serious stuff for Nick Clegg. Being “telegenic” has up until now been his biggest USP. It isn’t any more. He’d better manage to knock up something bloody spectacular on the Politics Show later today or his big mo will start to sink like a stone.

Incidentally, I notice that the Scott Press has started claiming that this election is a contest between a social democrat and a liberal. All I can say to that is that as someone who was arguing earlier this week for the party to put more emphasis on taxing income less and wealth more, and who is very conscious of the fact that the candidate closest to my own view on this is Chris Huhne, I was pleased to see the Guardian remind everyone this weekend that this position has at least one high profile exponent: J. S. Mill.

EXCLUSIVE: Dr Harris comes out for Huhne

Following last night’s Question Time hustings, Evan Harris MP has come out for Chris Huhne:

“I have known Chris Huhne for over 20 years as a political campaigner, journalist, businessman, MEP and leading party spokesman. He was SDP candidate in Oxford West and Abingdon in 1987 when his energetic campaign paved the way for my gaining the seat 10 years later. He has lost none of his energy, as he showed last night on Question Time. Both candidates are very effective communicators but I have been particularly struck by Chris Huhne’s commitment to ensuring that the Liberal Democrats remain a progressive and radical party. He is committed to social justice as a top priority and to the protection of equitable access to public services.”

Possibly not the greatest of coups ever, but Evan certainly has his fans within the party and is nobody’s fool. I haven’t seen Question Time yet, although it does seem to have been somewhere between a win for Huhne or a score draw, as the (relatively impartial) Liberal Conspiracy summary seems to confirm.

By the way Team Clegg, feel free to leak me stuff as well! 🙂

Chris Huhne: time to get serious

I really have veered a lot in my views in this leadership election. I’m not used to this phenomenon of genuinely not having made my mind up about something – it’s giddy stuff!

So it was that while my default position at the beginning of the campaign was that I’d be voting for Clegg, by the middle of last week I was more or less in the Huhne camp. But now I’m starting to move back to the centre again.

The reason is this row about school vouchers. First of all, as I’ve already said, I simply don’t accept the arguments put forward in Chris Huhne’s manifesto that a voucher system would be bad in all cases. If he’d limited his argument to opposing health insurance, he’d have been on safer ground: his arguments about the inherent bureaucracy of such systems are stronger (in my view).

But secondly, that ought to all be irrelevant because if Chris Huhne is truly committed to local control then he ought to accept that different Liberal Democrat council groups might come to wildly varying conclusions based on their local circumstances. I can see, for example, how a school voucher system could work very well indeed in inner London. I’m not wedded to the idea but I can see none of the disadvantages that I would foresee if the same system were introduced in a rural area.

Thirdly, the implication that Nick Clegg has a secret agenda for introducing school vouchers simply doesn’t hold water for me. It appears to be based on a Rachel Sylvester interview in the Telegraph where the simplest, most Occam’s Razor proof explanation is that she simply chose what she wanted to hear. I’ve noticed that one of Clegg’s unique characteristics is that he manages to convince Tories that he is one of them. Last night on 18 Doughty Street Iain Dale and Timothy Barnes were both utterly convinced that Clegg was a conviction Tory, while seconds later being equally convinced that Clegg was about to uncritically support Labour’s “illiberal” proposed homophobic hatred legislation. It doesn’t appear to be rational, more a kind of Derren Brown style mind trick.

(Side point: Barnes and Dale were waxing lyrical about how the Tories were going to oppose this while the Lib Dems would support it. I would merely point you to when it was debated in the Commons last month. Nick Herbert essentially welcomed it notwithstanding concerns about free speech, but it was both Evan Harris and David Heath who dealt with the freedom of speech issue in depth. Lib Dems 1, Tories 0 – sorry chaps)

Back on topic, one of my biggest complaints about Nick Clegg is that he has been playing for safety and that it may cause him and the party trouble in the long run if he then decides to start proposing major changes after he gets elected. To be precise, he won’t be able to and will merely have lots of acrimonious rows that get nowhere if he tries. So I can hardly then worry about a secret plot of his to introduce school vouchers as policy by the back door when he has now stated for the record on several occasions.

And then there’s this article summarising a pamphlet by Direct Democracy about introducing school vouchers. What is significant about this pamphlet is that Direct Democracy are very much on the right of the Conservative Party and they don’t think the argument for school vouchers is winnable in the short term. If they think that, then why on earth would Nick Clegg be so foolhardy as to position himself to their right?

In short, the school vouchers debate is complete puff. I’m annoyed at Chris Huhne for making such an issue of it for what appears to be cheap political capital. And though it saddens me to admit it, I’ve seen him make too much cheap political capital in this campaign so far. The Trident debate went on for two long weeks and also alienated me. The constant references to “not being another Cameron” (which admittedly Clegg can’t entirely absolve himself of blame for) grate; why no attacks on Brown in this campaign?

It is one thing for Huhne to overreach himself occasionally, but it is beginning to look like design rather than accident. His challenge in this campaign as the underdog is to make the political weather. But too much of this comes across as too divisive, too cheap and generating far more heat than light.

Huhne’s manifesto pegged him out to be the strategist, yet he’s the one that has been fighting a tactical campaign. I may be desperately uninspired by Clegg’s campaign, but at least it has an internal logic to it. Being able to maintain a steady course under fire is not in itself a bad thing, even if it is unclear which direction you are going.

I still rate Huhne as the candidate best able to articulate what the Liberal Democrats are for. Clegg continues to fail to inspire me and has been oversold as the “great communicator”. But he is at least now starting to come up with messages of his own. Some I agree with. Some I think are utterly ridiculous. But he’s setting the agenda now. It’s time that Chris Huhne, who has a whole manifesto to keep relaunching bits of over the coming weeks, followed suit.