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.
LibDem Voice should have been in its element today. But it hasn’t posted anything since the result 2.39pm and a Clegg Youtube video. Aren’t our yellow friends happy? Are they all getting hammered down the pub? Where’s the analysis, where’s the agenda for the future? This is why ConservativeHome is still streets ahead of its competition.
I love the way he talks about the idea of people celebrating in the pub (actually Planet Hollywood I understand) like it is a bad thing and a far worse use of time than blogging (and yes, I do appreciate the irony of sitting at home typing this). This perfectly illustrates why the average member of the Conservative Party might as well come from Mars as far as most normal people are concerned. What a strange little world they live in!
It also profoundly misunderstands the nature of Lib Dem blogging. Unlike the Tories, we don’t all hover around our hive hoping that Queen Montgomerie might deign to give us some royal jelly. There’s plenty of analysis to be found on Lib Dem blogs if you actually care to look. Unlike the Tory blogosphere, the hub is not the be-all and end-all of our web-presence.
Nick Clegg: 20988 (50.6%)
Chris Huhne: 20477 (49.4%)
Total votes cast: 41465 (64% approx)
I should be hailing our new Liberal Democratic overlord over on Comment is Free imminently.
If you didn’t hear my second bout with Dr Richard Grayson on the Westminster Hour, you can find it here (five weeks ago we were both resolutely sitting on the fence but I would have predicted that if anything I would have been the Huhney Monster and the Boy Wonder would have been the Clegghead – how times change).
Pleased the producers spared my blushes. I hate prerecord interviews; unlike live interviews the pressure isn’t on and the adrenaline steadfastly refuses to flow.
Whenever I hear about “conventional wisdom” it is time to take a reality check, particularly when it comes from the Tories.
So, notwithstanding the fact that I do think Clegg needs to sharpen up his media act, let’s just consider another senior politician here for a second: David Cameron.
I’m not comparing Clegg to Cameron, merely observing that whenever I hear Cameron on the radio I don’t think he comes across very well (although he has improved). John Humphries in particular seems to be able push his buttons.
Cameron, let us not forget, shot to fame on the basis of a single speech. At the hustings I’ve been to, Clegg was the clear winner in terms of speech while the Q&A was a dead heat. If this leadership contest had been conducted in the same way as the Tory one, Clegg would be being hailed as a media star right now (good old conventional wisdom again).
So his weakness on Today and on other media appearances is not the disaster that many Huhney Monsters are seeking to portray it as.
Another observation: in our interview with Vince Cable on Monday, he didn’t exactly come across as vibrant and inspirational. With Vince, it has all been about content, not style. The same will ultimately apply to whoever the new party leader is.
A few weeks ago, when I was more Huhne inclined, I argued that whatever problems he might have as a communicator, they can be sorted with training. The fact is, he is a much stronger communicator now compared with 18 months ago. So yes, maybe Clegg should have listened a little less to his fan club who were spinning before the start of this contest that he is the Great Communicator and thought a little harder about shaving off those rough edges, but if Huhne can improve, so can Clegg.
For the past four years, I’ve spent much of my job working on party funding related issues. This has given me a rather apolitical outlook when it comes to funding scandals.
“Abrahamsgate” and “Wendygate” are no exceptions. Don’t get me wrong; the decision of Peter Watt, apparently his predeccessors and almost certainly a lot of others within the party to break the law in covering up the identity of a major party donor is a real scandal. With the Wendy Alexander debacle, a similar dismissive attitude about the law seems to have been in place. But no party has clean hands, least of all the Conservatives who continue to use unincorporated associations to legally protect the anonymity of their donors. It may be legal, but they are doing exactly the same thing on a daily basis, only less hamfistedly.
It is really hard to see how some of the smaller donations which are getting journalists so excited at the moment have that much significance. Â£950 here or Â£2,000 there is not as much of an issue as the fact that, for example, the Â£306,000 in donations that were reported late by the main parties in the last quarter alone. The fact is, none of the main party’s systems are that good and they could all do with being improved (admittedly, Labour’s seems to be in a bigger mess than either the Tories or Lib Dems).
But if the central party machine’s systems are not that perfect, what about – for example – the campaign teams of leadership candidates? Most of the scandals that are hitting the headlines at the moment concern the Labour Deputy Leadership and the Scottish Leadership contests (or non-contest in the latter case). I hope that Team Clegg and Team Huhne are making extra sure that all their donations are above board and that they are registering every single one of them; it could so easily happen to us.
Nicolas Blincoe’s profile on Comment is Free used to describe him as a “volunteer advisor to Nick Clegg’s leadership campaign”. It now reads:
Nicholas Blincoe is an author, critic and screenwriter. He is a former advisor to Nick Clegg MP.
I got this message from Richard Allan, Nick Clegg’s campaign manager, today:
A little earlier this afternoon, my attention was drawn to an article by Nicholas Blincoe on the CommentIsFree website. I have not met Nicholas before and he is not a part of the Nick Clegg Campaign Team. I understand that he has been one of a number of people to advise Nick on speeches previously, hence his self-description.
The contents of the article are a personal viewpoint and in no way associated with this campaign. I have therefore contacted Nicholas to request that he makes this clear in a posting on the Guardian site. He has agreed to do this and I hope that a clarification will appear in short order.
All the best,
Blincoe himself has now issued a qualification. I’m pleased to see that Team Clegg have treated this with the seriousness it deserved and reacted promptly. Good show.
…and this one was more in depth, suggesting it was probably commissioned by a newspaper or other media outlet.
Lots of leading questions that pissed me off, but there you go. One question is factually wrong. The Liberal Democrats have not had four leaders since their formation. They have either had three or five depending on whether you include Acting Leaders Vince Cable and Robert Maclennan. To leave off the latter is rank ignorance. He may not have set the world on fire, but he made more impact in six months than Iain Duncan Smith made in two years.
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.