I’ve spent a significant amount of time over the past month or so criticising the other two candidates, but what I haven’t done is write about why I’m voting for Ros.
The shortest and simplest reason is that for the past year I’ve seen her walk the talk. The other two candidates talk a lot about campaigning. Ros has got off her arse, toured the country, developed a brand, shored up supporters, experimented with social media (successfully) and built momentum. A year ago, her chances of beating Lembit were minimal. Rather than settling for second place and a pat on the head, she’s worked her socks off to turn that around.
Now, I supported Lembit in 2004 and I agree with his lot of his supporters that he is one of the best trainers and motivators the party has. But Lembit’s response to this very public onslaught by Ros has been complacency. I wasn’t expecting him to go into full scale campaign mode in October 2007. But when I started my Where’s Lemby…? series of blog posts is was because I fully expected him to have a campaign team ready and waiting to get moving. I thought the blog posts might last a few days, a week at most, and that at best I would be able to leech some of the momentum from his launch. But there was no launch, at least not one to speak off. He just about managed to get a website up and running halfway through conference but even that was appallingly cack-handed.
The role of Federal President has very few powers. What powers it has is soft, not hard; it is not a point-and-click role by any means. Successful presidents need a combination of diplomacy, strategic vision and drive. Of the two presidents I served under on the Federal Executive, Navnit Dholakia had all three of those qualities to a greater or lesser extent, while Simon Hughes completely lacked a sense of strategy (and while I don’t think anyone could get away with accusing the Simon-The-Human-Dynamo of lacking drive, he did give up on his pledge to grow the party’s membership base remarkably quickly). Lembit’s big problem is drive, which explains why despite his seniority in both the FE and the Welsh Party, his liberal instincts, his charisma and his intellect he has never managed to deliver anything even close to what his manifesto proposes in the past. He gets bored too easily. The sad fact is that does not merely make him less effective than he could be, it makes him a positive liability at times.
Having seen Ros both up close and at a distance, it is my judgement that she has all three in spades. But fundamentally, she really wants the job. Lembit really wanted it in 2004 and it showed. The difference between the campaign he ran then and the campaign he is running now is huge.
Dynamism is the single most important quality in political campaigning. Everything else comes second in this election. For that reason I urge everyone to do the party a favour and give Ros Scott your first preference.
At the risk of being accused of picking on Chandila Fernando, I do have a couple of comments now that shiny version of his website has finally been published.
1) Now it has been launched, what is the point of the holding page? If it at least had a sign up form that would be something. As it stands it just makes the content another click away. Does no-one worry about bounce rates these days?
2) When will the UK English version be made available? I’m sure proposes to “decentralize” and “modernize” will go down well with an American audience but over here we call them spelling mistakes.
3) Why is it that whenever you point your mouse on the Libby Bird, it flies away? That isn’t just gimmicky, it’s annoying.
4) For all this talk about the party having a confusing brand, which brand will Fernando finally settle on? On the front page alone we have “Modernize, Streamline, Decentralize” and “The Troubleshooter: the activist, on your side, to turn it around.” Click on “About Chandila” and we get three more adjectives “Energy, Leadership, Enthusiasm.” Click on “Manifesto” and it becomes “The Fresh Face, New Ideas, Serious.” These are all very nice words, but how does this amount to a candidate that really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to branding?
5) If you’re going to launch a website days late, you ought to make sure everything is ready. Having an empty “Events” page and “coming soon” on the “Get Involved” page is pretty dire.
I know I’m open to the accusation of being mean here but if you are really trying to sell yourself on your professionalism, you really do need to get your ducks in a row.
Claims that Lembit will be appearing on the next Celebrity Big Brother have now been vigourously denied. But there remain two problems.
The first thing is that the story “rang” true. CBB is pretty much the only celebrity reality TV show Lembit hasn’t appeared on. He’s made much out of his appearances on I’m a Celebrity and Celebrity Apprentice*. And he has of course appeared on a myriad of other chat and panel shows. By contrast, no-one would have believed the story about Ros Scott or indeed pretty much any other MP. That is an image problem which Lembit himself has cultivated. So while it may indeed be “mischief” to invent stories such as this, it is only planting a seed in well cultivated soil.
The second thing is the length of time it took to rebut the story. Indeed, at the time of writing (1.20pm) the denial has yet to appear on his official website. No bloggers were briefed to start the rebuttal process. Why the length of time? Could it be that his campaign team weren’t completely sure the story wasn’t true and wasted the morning trying to track down the candidate? This suggests that a) Team Lembit perceive the same image problem that the rest of us do and b) either the campaigners or the candidate is not really concentrating on the fight.
Issuing a denial on a website is a five minute job. Is it really too much to expect Lembit to sort this out?
UPDATE: * Not forgetting Big Brother’s Little Brother of course**.
** Oops. Didn’t mention the All Star Talent Show, All-Star Mr and Mrs, Celebrity Weakest Link and Celebrity Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
As you will no doubt have read by now, the Sun is claiming that Lembit Opik has agreed to take part in 2009’s Celebrity Big Brother. Thus far, Team Lembit have issued no denial, suggesting it is either true or they are in complete disarray.
A thought though occurs: assuming CBB starts at around the same time as it did in 2007, Lembit’s participation would prevent him from taking part in either his first or second Federal Executive meeting (so much for that much-vaunted high attendence record). I find it awfully hard to believe that intense pressure will not be brought to bear to prevent him from doing that. By contrast, if he doesn’t get elected, then who will be able to prevent him from taking part?
I’m sure Lembit has thought that one through. So a thought occurs: is the choice he is offering us that either he will get elected, knuckle down and take his presidency seriously or he will continue going down the path of establishing himself as a celeb TV fixture. So people are being offered the Hobson’s Choice of either electing him or having him make the party look ridiculous. In other contexts, that looks rather a lot like blackmail.
In some ways though, he is doing us a favour. By raising the stakes in this way he is dramatising a choice the Lib Dems have to make: do you want to be taken seriously or be dismissed as wacky eccentrics? A decisive Ros Scott victory will send a signal that the party is raising its game.
…can be found on Comment is Free:
These questions, for the Lib Dems at least, are important. The party president is not a figurehead but an executive role. I happen to think that the more focused Lembit who ran a highly organised campaign four years ago would have done a much better job than Simon Hughes. But now? He says he wants the role but all his actions suggest that his campaign is little more than an afterthought. Whether that is complacency or apathy, it is the last thing the party needs right now.
At 4.54pm today, I got an email from Chris Rennard – which presumably went out to all members – promoting the websites of the three candidates for Lib Dem Federal President. Chandila Fernando’s website currently is short and to the point.
For goodness’ sake. It isn’t like the last leadership election where all the candidates were going from a standing start. These eejits have had two years to prepare their campaigns. Is it really to much to expect them to get the basics right, since they are all so keen on prevaricating on the need for the party to be more professional?
UPDATE: Fernando’s website is now live. It looks remarkably similar to the Liberal Vision website. Wonder why.
Reports of Lembit’s demise have been greatly exaggerated!
Quaequam Blog! has had reports that Lembit arrived at the Bournemouth International Conference Centre resplendent on his Segway. And QQB! has personally been asked to sign Lembit’s nomination papers.
Team Lembit, it has to be said, look at bit less impressive than Team Ros, with their ‘Ipik Opik’ address labels on their lapels. But at least they’re now doing something. With any luck, we might even see a campaign website soon.
Text your Lembit sightings to 07966 237550 or Twitter @jamesgraham.
More Lembit news today, but none of it is very good.
First of all, the Western Mail reports that senior Welsh Lib Dem politicians are “snubbing” Lembit in favour of a “little-known candidate from England” (which is apparently a small place somewhere east of the Marches). Yet Lembit is apparently still standing, stating that:
â€œParty members can vote for whichever candidate they like. Itâ€™s called democracy and I support that. Ros Scott may have some supporters in Wales, but I have lots of people backing me in England.
â€œI believe I am the right person to become president. I am already the senior vice-president and chair meetings of the executive, of which I have been a member for 17 years.
â€œIf people want a president with experience and determination who is inspirational, I believe they should vote for me.
â€œI travel round Britain to see members of the party all the time, which is why my car has 380,000 miles on the clock.
â€œI am standing in this election not on what I say I will do in the future, but on the record of what I have been doing in the party and will continue to do.â€
But in a sign that he is a little irked about his lack of support, how’s this for a pout?
â€œI have done all the training for candidates within the party since 1990. I remember Kirsty Williams coming to a course I ran in the mid-1990s in the early stages of her career.
â€œIâ€™m sure she is grateful for the help I gave her.”
Ouch. I’m sure she feels suitably put in her place now. Bloody girls.
Meanwhile, it appears that it isn’t just the Welsh who are less than sympathetic to Lembit’s cause. For the second month in a row he has come bottom of Lib Dem Voice’s Members’ Poll on the Shadow Cabinet:
Sarah Teather -14.6%
Roger Williams -14.6%
Michael Moore -20.8%
Nick Harvey -23.9%
Lembit Opik -35.4%