Tag Archives: Simon-Hughes

Peter Black: where’s the beef?

I’m a little torn regarding Peter Black’s recent outburst about Ming Campbell’s leadership. I share many of Peter’s concerns and support his right to air them, but I question why he chose the nuclear option of seeking to turn them all into a question of leadership.

Take the tax policy for example. I too agree that what I’ve seen so far is muddled and unfocussed. But for that, I blame the tax commission. I’m also quite sanguine about Ming discussing some of it in public at this late stage – it is dangerous to write policy in a vacuum. And let’s not forget that it was Charles Kennedy – not Ming – who started talking to the papers about what was going to be in the paper – as far back as November.

The problem with pinning all of this on the leader is that your meaningful criticisms get lost in the noise about personality clashes. It becomes a test of Ming’s “strength” to dismiss everything you have to say. The substance gets lost.

Indeed, many of these problems predate Ming’s leadership. These criticisms amount to little more than bemoaning the fact that Ming hasn’t introduced change fast enough. Wouldn’t it be more effective to instead consider who or what is preventing those changes from taking place, and to challenge Ming to sort them out, rather than placing all the responsibility on him? One aspect of the diffuse way in which power is spread by the Liberal Democrat constitution is that playing “pin the blame on the leader” can become an exercise in denying your own – and our collective – responsibility.

Generally, attacking the leader is something you should reserve unless you are serious about ousting him/her. It isn’t clear if that is Peter’s intent, but it is certainly clear that a lot of such noise has been coming from his fellow Simon Hughes supporters and of course Simon Hughes himself. Yet Hughes was humiliated in the leadership contest, coming third behind an MP who had only entered the Commons for the first time 8 months before. However tempting the conspiracy theory may be, it must be barking: Hughes has had two attempts at leader and is in no position to mount a challenge either now or after the general election.

Since it is vocal Hughes supporters making all the running though, it does behoove me to point out that, as President, Hughes shares responsibility for many of the things that Black is so critical of. Hughes is up for re-election this autumn, not Campbell, and it is his record we should be currently turning our attention to. If there are problems at the top of the party, this is our chance to fix them in a much more productive manner than lobbing brickbats at Ming.

Well done Ming!

When it’s all said and done, Ming Campbell was my second choice and I’m happy with the result.

I can’t deny the result was a bit of a surprise. I’ve been convinced he’d win for the past fortnight, but I thought it would be within 5%. Similarly, I thought Simon Hughes was going to do better than he did.

Ming has more of a mandate than Charles Kennedy got in 1999 – more actual votes (just) and a higher turnout (although membership has gone down by 10,000 in the intervening 6 years). That genuinely surprised me. It’s a position of strength and squarely puts whingers like me in our places, but I hope he doesn’t imagine that gives him a blank cheque. The anonymous MP who told the Guardian yesterday that “It’s precisely because he’s older and experienced that he can afford to take risks and challenge and even piss off the party,” is half right. But he has to lead not drag the party by the nose. Some senior politicians seem to spend all their time fantasising about beating up the party’s grassroots, yet are blind to the fact that, given a bit of respect, the grassroots tends to go along with what the leadership wants 95% of the time.

In terms of my personal small contribution to the contest, Reflecting Britain, I’m delighted Ming won as his stated views on these issues are the closest to my own. I’m delighted at how both Ming and Huhne internalised Reflecting Britain into their own campaigns, even borrowing language and soundbites from it, and going beyond simply signing up. You can be sure that we will be taking Ming’s mandate as a mandate for the campaign itself and will ensure that the extremely positive things he said during the campaign will become reality.

As for Chris Huhne, even his most trenchant critics must surely accept that he played a blinder. While the result could obviously be better, his achievement has been considerable and he’s done a lot to highlight the issues that I personally value extremely highly. Campbell said in his acceptance speech that Huhne will have a good place in the frontbench, and he’s certainly earned it.

All in all though, I’m glad its all over and we can move on. Such hard fought election campaigns are a neccessary part of a healthy democracy, but it doesn’t mean they’re always fun experiences at the time!

What will happen if Mr Angry wins?

Contrary to the bizarre claims of Simon Hughes earlier this week, all the evidence is suggesting the Lib Dem leadership will be a close run thing between Chris Huhne and Ming Campbell. Indeed, if anything, it is pointing towards a Huhne win, with the Guardian today backing that up (although it is not entirely in his favour – the Independent did their own, much smaller, straw poll and put Ming in first place while SpecialBets reports a telephone poll that suggests a Ming win, although fails to mention who was doing the poll).

Personally, I think that the balance evidence may well prove to be wrong and that Ming will win, albeit narrowly. As I said at the time of the infamous YouGov poll, the margin of error leads me to suspect that the positions could easily be reversed, and I don’t believe that Huhne has sufficiently gained ground since then.

But this does all somewhat worry me, because I’ve been genuinely surprised at the bad management of the Ming campaign. It has increasingly become clear to me that the blame for that, combined with the candidate’s own bad temper, lies very much at the door of Mr Campbell and no-one else. My very real fear is that what we see is what we’ll get; a distant, bad tempered leader who spends every day of the campaign losing ground. That doesn’t spell out to me “bridge to the future” so much as a “bridge to oblivion”.

I know that the Mingers reading this will quickly dismiss this out of hand as a biased comment from a Huhne supporter, but it was not always thus. Before Christmas, I had reconciled myself to the fact that Campbell was the only choice to succeed Kennedy (which I suspected would happen in Summer 2006). I wasn’t filled with enthusiasm with the prospect, but I went along with the analysis that he would be a safe pair of hands who would then bow out with dignity after the next general election.

Two things changed: firstly, Campbell’s repeated failure to back Kennedy before Christmas struck me not just as a blatant attempt to undermine him, but politically foolish. Secondly, at the earliest stages his campaign floundered to an alarming degree.

Still, Hughes would be worse. My decision to back Chris Huhne, at least at first, was mainly aimed at ensuring that issues that wer important to me we kept on the agenda. I wanted to cast my first preference with my heart (Huhne) and my second preference with my head (Campbell). At the early stages of the campaign, I even spent time bombarding friends on the pro-Ming campaign with the benefit of my advice. It may not have been entirely welcome, but it was a sincere attempt to help. My second preference, at least at that stage, was still very much a positive one.

What rapidly became apparent however is that a critical mass of people, generally well informed campaigners and activists, felt exactly the same way as me. Suddenly Huhne went from being a vanity vote and into a serious proposition.

The psychological strain this has caused Campbell and his team has been clear for all to see. Many people who plumped for Campbell in the initial stages simply made the same calculation that I did and plumped for their head vote. I’m confident that a lot of them now regret that decision, but have invested far too much of their own credibility into Ming to switch horses halfway through. This tension has lead to the noises off that we were pelted with a few weeks ago, be it the “naive populism” gaffe through to the Deep Throat mouthing off about how Huhne had reneged on a deal to coronate Ming. Increasingly though, it is the candidate himself who is turning nasty.

Ming’s assault on Simon Hughes on Thursday (“I’ve learned from Simon how not to answer the bloody question“) has been widely reported. His insinuation that Chris Huhne’s integrity is open to question because he asked Ming to release him from his promise not to stand against him, is just plain daft. What does it say about Ming that he a) actively went around extracting these promises from MPs when Kennedy was still leader (despite denying it at the time) and that b) having released Huhne from his promise, he now chooses to attempt to make political capital out of it? Every time that story is trotted out it is Ming’s integrity that is brought into question, not Chris’s and he would do well to have the good grace and common sense to keep quiet about it.

One of two things will happen if Ming wins, one of which would be disastrous. He and his supporters could claim this to be a magnificant victory, claim all the spokespersonships and senior positions in the party for themselves and demand undying loyalty. The other option is that they recognise that they ran a dreadful campaign, that Huhne ran a great campaign, that whatever else you might say Huhne won the activist vote and do their best to build bridges (and not of the time machine variety). If Ming and co are vainglorious, as opposed to magnanimous, they’ll quickly learn that you can’t lead by cracking the whip. My problem is, Ming’s behaviour over the past couple of weeks increasingly leads me to suspect that is exactly what he proposes to do.

To turn things around a little bit, Nick Clegg could end up being both prescient and utterly wrong in his analysis that any other leader than Ming would have to spend their time “looking over their shoulders”. The bad tempered nature of the campaign means that if a victorious Ming failed to spend any time looking over his shoulder, he will come a cropper. Huhne on the other hand will be all too aware that most MPs didn’t support him and that he will need to spend time building their confidence in him.

Rob Fenwick took me to task yesterday for being rude – shorthand for the far better Wilcockian “crass, boorish and more a bruiser than blogger”. They’re both right. The fact that I am a gobshite is something I personally have long come to terms with: it makes me wholly unsuited for public office, but does enable me to say things that would otherwise not be. Ultimately, my biggest problem with Ming is that of the three candidates he reminds me of me; if that isn’t a reason not to put your “1” by his name, I don’t know what is.

A question of standards

We Lib Dems, we hate the Standards Board, right? Got policy to abolish it even. Some of us, notably Islington Council Leader Steve Hitchens and East Yorks Councillor Colleen Gill, have even almost come unstuck by them. We have good reason to be very dubious about their rulings.

So why – the fuck – are Graham Tope and Simon Hughes going along with today’s ruling to suspend Ken Livingstone? It is an absolute bloody outrage. For the record, he didn’t even make an anti-semitic comment. True, it was unbelievably crass and it is bizarre that he chose to not apologise and simply put the whole thing to bed, but that is a matter for the London electorate, but an unelected cabal of busybodies.

Iain Dale could well be right – perhaps Livingstone ought to resign and cause a by-election on this issue. Of course, we’d then fight the campaign on other issues, but if Livingstone went on to humiliate us (in the way that he utterly humiliated Hughes in 2004), that might well be justice.

Livingstone is, to be sure, about the worst kind of Labour politician going – as opportunistic as it gets, plays community against community, seeks to hide behind the autocratic powers granted him by the government and then attacks the GLA for failing to hold him to account – he certainly needs taking down a peg or five. But this ruling threatens every single elected politician in the country. A degree of solidarity is long overdue.

Follow that Cab!

Readers will recall that I asked Simon Hughes to answer the following question via his e-hustings service:

Simon, you’ve made a big deal out of the environment and green issues in the campaign, yet you drive a diesel powered Taxi. Ming Campbell has said he will give up his Jag – are you prepared to put your money where your mouth is and give up your car?

A reasonable enough question given the strong feelings Simon’s own web-manager has on the subject.

Well, it’s extremely late in the campaign, but I’m pleased to announce that Simon has finally got around to answering my question. More to the point, he has helpfully rephrased it slightly, with a view to improving clarity – no wriggling out of the tough questions for our Simon with strict legalistic definitions and other such lawyerly nonsense!

Question: How would you help tackle the issue of Climate Change, and reduce our Co2 emissions?

Thank you Simon. Your frankness and openness on this issue is an inspiration to us all! As Rob Fenwick said, this is “a crucial question of honesty and consistency“.

Things hot up

With just a few days to go now until the ballot closes, the Lib Dem leadership contenders are starting to bring out the big guns.

Alarmed by the “increasingly confident” Simon Hughes’ coup of not just “Bingo” Bob Russell but also Charles Kennedy’s brother-in-law (a man of such seniority within the party that he is currently an FE member because, um, yours truly resigned – imagine the fanfare if I decided to switch teams at the last minute?), Ming has responded by announcing that John Hemming is now backing him.

And how has Chris Huhne responded? With a quote from David Steel that, if you squint a bit and turn your head to one side, might look like an endorsement. Oh, that and forget that Steel has been backing Ming from the start and indeed sent out an email* yesterday calling for people to back him (with the rather dubious claim that it was simply his relatively short time in Parliament back in 1999 – 12 years – that stopped Ming from whupping Kennedy arse and nothing at all to do with the fact that he was involved in a faction that wanted the Lib Dems to all but merge with Labour).

Yes indeedy, it’s silly season in the Lib Dem leadership stakes now. Almost everyone’s voted, even more people have made up their minds, so the various campaign teams are planning to fill the next couple of weeks with increasingly bizarre and outlandish claims. It should be fun, lie back and enjoy!

* I seem to have been blackballed by the Campbell Campaign – used to get these emails regularly, but no longer. Fair enough, but it’s a bit petty isn’t it guys? I am still giving your candidate my second preference!

Simon’s Dodgy Dossier

Comical Ali

A spokesman for Simon Hughes said: “My feelings – as usual – we will slaughter them all.”

Quoth Mr Hughes:

Although the race is close, the evidence is that I have a slight lead with the other two battling it out for second place.

Good luck to Simon, and I’m really pleased for him if he’s feeling confident. But please. What evidence?

The evidence may be flawed, indeed I think we can all agree that to at least some extent it is, but it all points towards a close fight between Huhne and Campbell. Every opinion poll of actual members, as opposed to supporters, suggests this. The punters tend to agree, with the lowest available odds on a Hughes victory currently standing at 12/1.

There is a fine line between self-confidence and self-delusion. Guido has a rather poorly phrased joke on his blog today, which nonetheless sums it up:

Q. What’s the connection between Simon Hughes and his Nokia phone?
A. They are both Finnish.


Regular readers will have gather that I’m not only in favour of the party having more women MPs, but I want to see it take positive action on the issue.

What I do oppose however is positive discrimination where it is not warranted, and simplistic tokenism. What therefore am I to make of this:

Mr Hughes told the hustings meetings that if he became leader one of his first actions would be to ask his parliamentary colleagues to agree to a change in their rules, and elect two deputy leaders – one female and one male…

“By agreeing to this rule change and appointing two deputy leaders, one of which had to be a woman, my colleagues in Westminster would demonstrate both to the Liberal Democrat party at large, but as importantly the wider general public in the country, that the Liberal Democrats were serious about increasing the number of women in parliament.”

Nonsense on stilts! The position of deputy leader, on its own, isn’t that significant a role. Their only real job is to ask John Prescott questions when Tony Blair is off sunbathing at one of Silvio Berlusconi’s mansions. Ming Campbell, when deputy, was high profile because of his Foreign Affairs brief. By contrast, Alan Beith was almost anonymous in the last few years of his deputy leadership.

If you want to improve representation of women, you give a significant number of them senior frontbench positions. You don’t achieve it by creating a single extra ceremonial post.

For balance, I should point out that like Mark Valladares I am disappointed to hear that Chris Huhne apparently came out in support of BME-only shortlists at last night’s Ethnic Minority Election Task Force Hustings. Party conference rightly rejected similar proposals (made by Simon Hughes as it happens) by a majority of around 4:1 last September and it was right to do so.

UPDATE: Since Ming supporters have (quite reasonably) decided to make capital out of my disappointment over Chris Huhne’s support on the issue of BME-only shortlists, I should add the following:

Disagreeing with Chris on this is not the end of the world as the party is a democracy and any such changes would require conference to change the constitution. As Simon Hughes learned to his great cost in September, it ain’t gonna happen.

But, to be fair of Chris, my understanding is that his position hasn’t changed greatly from his stated position on Reflecting Britain. i.e. try everything else first. Given that I happen to believe that if properly implemented the party’s position of positive action is extremely effective (let’s not forget that the gender balance proposals voted down in 2001 called for measures that would guarantee that 1/3rd of target sets had female candidates – in 2005 7 out of 21 new MPs were women), I don’t need to worry too much.

As for Ming, well, I’m not convinced he particularly cares about the issue one way or another. During the first Sky News hustings he branded the current Lib Dem policy of gender balance and ethnic diversity as a “complete and utter failure” – now he has signed up to both of them. Welcome though it is that his more enlightened supporters have got him to sign up to the issue over the past few weeks, there is a significant question mark over whether he will continue to take interest if and when elected. Peter: how well do you know your candidate?

Smoking Ban Balls

A lot of nonsense has been written in the blogosphere about the smoking ban being “illiberal”. It isn’t. What it is is a perfect example of how liberalism doesn’t deal in absolutes. I make it a policy of distrusting anyone who suggests otherwise.

For example, the smoking ban most definitely does pass Mill’s famous harm test. Where it fails, in my view, is in the tests of subsidiarity and proportionality. In terms of the former, it is disappointing to see Sarah Teather vote for the ban in a free vote, given her article for Centre For Um… on devolving power.

As it happens, I think that LDYS has got the balance right by calling for a licensing system. Not for the first time, LDYS has proven itself to be ahead of the more reactionary Parliamentary Party.

The real puzzle though is Simon Hughes. A few weeks ago, he lined up behind Mark “liberalising licensing laws will lead to a Christmas Crisis” Oaten on Sky News who said “you can’t pick and choose liberalism” and that he would vote against the ban. Instead he voted for a slight change in the wording, but abstained on the vote on the ban itself. This isn’t the first time that Simon’s public pronouncements haven’t been matched by his actions. On this issue I would have been inclined to support him, but he let me down. Do we really want a leader who is so inconsistent?

Lloyd George would approve

Far be it for me to get a reputation as a nay-sayer all the time. I have just read the three leadership contender’s positions on land value taxation (courtesy of ALTER) and pronounce myself Well Pleased.

There are subtle differences. I’m not entirely sure about Ming/Cable’s line that LVT should be set nationally rather than locally so as to not be seen to be doing a u-turn on LIT. We are already committed to SVR at a local level to replace business rates, and thus it would be a very minor tweak to extend it to households too. On the other hand, I entirely welcome the fact that they are considering national LVT, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain. If anything, Chris Huhne’s line is actually the weakest of the three (although none of the candidates are unequivocally in support).

There are two points to take from this: firstly, none of the candidates need ALTER’s few votes to get them elected, so one can only conclude that this consensus suggests a genuine change of opinion within the Parliamentary Party over the past few years. The headbangers who insisted we drop all property taxation and adopt the taxation policies of a Socialist Utopia are in decline. Secondly, with all of the candidates in agreement, there should be a real pressure on the tax commission to subsequently act on it.

As the opposite is always assume I will again make myself clear: I am not opposed to LIT per se, indeed I very much endorse Chris Huhne’s tax commission proposals to substantially devolve income tax to a local level (doubling or even trebling our current commitment of 3.5p in the pound to be raised locally). I happen to think that taxing land at the same time should be seen as a complementary policy.

The Lib Dems need to be aware that there is significant movement within the Labour Party on this. The latest edition of Renewal includes an article on LVT, the IPPR have just published a collection of essays and Iain McLean has written a piece for Compass on the subject (word). The New Statesman is a supporter (or at least, it was under Peter Wilby), along with respected figures such as the FT’s Martin Wolfe and Samuel Brittain.

True, so far the best they’ve come up with is the Barking Planning Gain Supplement, but I strongly suspect that Brown is listening to the debate and taking notes. When he finally does come up with some kind of plan, wouldn’t it be better to already be there in front of him?