Camp Campbell have been very vocal over the past few days to portray Chris Huhne as a closet social democrat. I therefore very much look forward to hearing them spin Bernard “theory and practice of community politics” Greaves’ endorsement.
Have you read the Times over the last few months? You have? Then, you’ll know that it has a very simple prescription for what the Lib Dems should do. Essentially it is this: dump all that social liberal nonsense, embrace economic liberalism and turn ourselves into the UK equivalent of the German FDP. The shorthand they use for this is “modernisation.”
So, when Ming starts crowing about how the Times has not only backed him, but is emphasising his “modernising” agenda, one can only conclude that his campaign is speaking in the same code. Except of course that they will deny it.
In many respects, this endorsement is more damning than Toynbee’s endorsement of Chris Huhne – note how Chris’ campaign team chose not to mention that endorsement on their website (very wise). In the past I have dismissed sentiments such as John Harris’ claim that Ming is the “Orange Book Trojan Horse” as a) not understanding what the Orange Book is and b) overestimating the so-called “Orange Bookers.” But this decision to wear the Times’ badge with pride does rather lend credence that it is David Laws, not Shirley Williams, who has got Ming’s ear.
Put simply: what does it say about Ming that he is happy to accept the endorsement of both the Guardian and the Times? We have reached the limits of the “all things to all people” approach, and it is time we defined ourselves better. Both papers endorse Ming for entirely different reasons: who is he going to disappoint?
I know it is too much to ask, but I do find it a bit exasperating reading blog after blog by people who a couple of days ago were trashing YouGov, now claiming that today’s poll of supporters (i.e. NOT members) proves, without shadow of a doubt, that Simon Hughes is the front runner. Or, if you want to stretch it even further, that Ming Campbell is now the front runner.
I’ve never put too much credence into that YouGov poll – at the time I acknowledged that if you read between the lines it still looks very much like Ming Campbell is in front. But at least it was of members and was conducted at around the time that large numbers of people were filling in their ballot papers.
A poll of supporters doesn’t tell you anything at all at this stage, except of course which candidate is the best known. What’s worse, these aren’t the people we need to worry about particularly: a good leader needs to be finding us new support if we are to move forward.
As David Howarth writes:
This poll published in the Sunday Times is like asking people in Chippenham to predict the outcome of the election in Dumfermline.
I know, I know, it sounds like sour grapes. It’s just the posts today have been so overblown, so seemingly incapable of mentioning that one little uncomfortable fact that this isn’t a members’ poll, it just irks me a little bit.
Fortunately though, our Chris is made of sterner stuff. Today’s attack on him by Nick Cohen has surely cemented his place in first place, if not the next General Election.
Well done Chris!
Probably the weakest of these criticisms is the one about Huhne being a closet (whisper it!) social democrat. Do catch up. The party has inherited too many genuine liberals from the old SDP for this to still be an issue: Roy Jenkins, Bob Maclennan, Charles Kennedy to name but three. In 1982, the Liberal Party had been in the political wilderness for decades; it is no surprise that liberals ended up in both Labour and the Conservatives. Some of the most illiberal people I’ve ever met within the party love to go on and on about their background in the old Liberal Party, which was more of a franchise for the disaffected than the Lib Dems have ever been. Sneering about anyone with an SDP background being a closet socialist is simply historically ignorant (compounded in Simon Mollan’s case by apparant ignorance that Huhne’s line about taxing the dead was a direct quote from David Lloyd-George).
Some of Simon’s criticisms are valid: Chris certainly does need to stop grinning inanely when he doesn’t realise the cameras are on him, and his apparent smugness over the YouGov poll did him few favours. I certainly do think that he needs some fairly intensive media training to get him up to speed. But as the former employee of Paddy Ashdown’s ex-speech trainer, I can state categorically that has applied to some of the best politicians around. And as a “problem” it is eminently fixable.
But his criticisms on international policy are just plain Simon, who in any case was an outspoken critic of Ming before the leadership blew up. Simon won’t like what ANY of the candidates have to say on foreign policy, so why he considers this to be a deciding factor in the contest is beyond me.
Ditto environmental taxation. Again, all three candidates are in favour; the debate is about degree. It is fair enough to choose the candidate closer to your view, but Simon does seem rather keen on attempting to portray this in black and white terms, with Chris and Ming at different ends of the spectrum. What he’s really saying is that he doesn’t like any of the candidates’ policies and Ming is the best of a bad lot. That’s again fair enough, but a bit of frankness would be nice.
The counter-spin from Camp Campbell:
Sir Menzies’ supporters argue that the online poll – commissioned by John Stevens, a former Tory MEP who defected to the Lib Dems and is a friend of Mr Huhne – was bound to be weighted to younger, professional, internet-literate members, precisely the kind of people attracted to the Eastleigh MP’s campaign.
Pah! Who wants those sort of votes anyway?
It should be pointed out of course that the Tories have even fewer “younger, professional, internet-literate members” and yet YouGov predicted Cameron’s victory by 1%.
Simon Hughes claimed on Question Time tonight that he has never attacked the other two candidates. Dimblebum later said that the attacks were on his website, prompting this rebuttal:
Simon appeared on BBC1’s Question Time with the other leadership candidates on Thursday evening, and really connected with the audience in the studio and at home – it’s worth watching.
However, in the course of the progamme David Dimbleby stated as fact that Simon has published two attacks relating to other leadership candidates in his manifesto and / or on this Website. This allegation is untrue.
Well, I haven’t bothered scrolling through the whole website, but I have noticed that neither the In the News or Speeches section have been updated since before the ballot papers went out on 3 February. As I don’t scrutinise the website regularly, I can only assume that is a monumental cock-up on Camp Hughes’ part rather than that they have gone scurrying around removing anything in the past week that could be seen as an attack. But the BBC’s website is updated somewhat more regularly. It still carries the following story:
Mr Hughes, seen as the most left-wing of the three leadership contenders, said of Sir Menzies, the party’s 64-year-old acting leader and foreign affairs spokesman: “Members have to make a choice. Do they want a leader for this parliament and this generation or do they want a caretaker?”
He said Treasury spokesman Mr Huhne, 51, lacked “campaigning experience” and had “no evidence of relating well to the British public”.
These are direct quotes – attributed to him personally, not a spokesperson. If the BBC has printed an outright falsehood, then it is an absolute scandal. So, what action is Simon taking to have the story taken down, or have the relevant journalists disciplined? It is odd that he has allowed the stories to stay up there unchallenged for the past two days.
Once again then, we return to Simon Hughes’ judgement. Like the gay/bi/whatever situation, it is the way he has handled it that has raised eyebrows. There’s nothing wrong with being gay or bisexual. And there is nothing wrong with having criticisms of your political opponents – both criticisms are ones that the targets will need to account for. My suspicion is that he did say these things, whatever Camp Hughes put on their website. I would have a lot more respect for him if he had just come out and admitted it, rather than dissemble.
On a related note, I have received notice that Simon isn’t planning to answer the questions set on his e-hustings until Monday. Will anyone have not voted by then? (that is a rhetorical question by the way Rob)
UPDATE: Ann Treneman remarks:
It was a weird moment. Mr Hughes was being asked about saying that Chris Huhne was not very well known and that Sir Ming Campbell was cautious. Now Mr Hughes definitely said those things, and not long ago. Perhaps he had just forgotten. I found it worrying. Can his denial really be that strong? The answer, as always with the Lib-Dems, is that it can.
Maybe Simon will be suing the Times as well?
Alex Wilcock has given me a new tagline: “crass, boorish and more a bruiser than blogger.”
Moi? I’m a pussycat! Still, I should use this opportunity to plug his three excellent articles on the leadership contenders: Let Ming Be Ming, Simon: Think Before You Open Your Mouth and Chris: Fill in the Person, Not the Policy. I’m not convinced after reading these posts, especially the Ming one, that I’m the only “bruiser” out there.
I’ve been asleep all day, so I was more than a little surprised to wake up to learn that the YouGov Mk 2 poll had been published with Huhne in front.
Let’s not get too carried away here. The margin of error here is at least 5%. My instincts tell me that right at this moment, Campbell is still the front runner. But there is no doubt that this poll, being published tonight, with Question Time on this evening (which on past performance, Huhne will do very well at), and so many members delaying casting their vote until that programme, isn’t going to boost Huhne’s chances.
Campbell has finally adopted the strategy he should have been using for the past month: bash Cameron and in doing so highlight his inexperience. The problem is, why waste a month with all this “I have a Time Machine” nonsense, and it is notable that he has only adopted it now that Blair and Brown have started using it.
We need a leader who sees an opportunity and goes for it, and on that basis Huhne clearly wins hands down. Nick Clegg seems to think that is an appalling attribute for a leader; this makes me less and less convinced that he will ever be leader himself.
(Geddit? GEDDIT? You know, the band that did the theme tune to that time travel film. What was it called? Bridge to the Future or something?)
The story today is that Hughes has diverted his fire away from Campbell and onto Huhne. Earlier today, I speculated that this was a miscalculation based on jitters about Huhne overtaking him. It is certainly a bad idea to attack the candidate in third place, it only gives them credibility. What’s more, at this point candidates need to start repeating the message, the message, the message and Hughes’ best message is that he won’t be a caretaker leader.
But the more I think about it, the more I think this must be a deliberate face saving measure. In essence, Hughes has looked at his own internal polling, seen that he’s in third place, and has decided that finishing in a face-saving second must be his main priority from now until 2 March. The hope must be that his mudslinging, combined with Campbell’s, will start to stick and Huhne’s support will start to slip under sheer relentless attack. Anyone who has fought an election campaign when Labour and the Tories start sharing lines of attack in the interest of preserving a two-party “status quo” will recognise this tactic.
As for Hughes’ manifesto, one has to ask: what’s the point? We’re back to litany politics here – lots of policy bites and “themes” but no overall message or structure. It is an example of everything we’ve been doing wrong with Lib Dem campaigning in recent years. What’s worse, by being too specific, it means that if elected he is simply letting himself in for years of policy battles and accusations of U-turns. All candidates are open to this, but the other two have attempted to walk the fine line between detail and vision. Hughes plumps straight for detail.
And it has to be pointed out that this thing should have been wheeled out last week. Launching a manifesto after a good 20% of the electorate have already physically voted is just plain daft.
There has been a curious lack of fire in this campaign. My assumption has always been that Simon would do better than the media expected because of his natural charisma and ability to do a good speech. He has those qualities, but too often his campaign has been about fighting the battles of yesterday. Too much of his manifesto sounds like it came out of policy papers from the mid-90s: he’s refighting old battles. If Campbell is a Bridge to the Future, then Hughes is a Tunnel to the Past.