Panic or black propaganda?

Surely this is a deliberate attempt to undermine Ming’s campaign? The backstabbers of Charles Kennedy going around calling people traitors? Secret handshakes?

My guess is the source of this piece is very much a non-Oranger Booker (most people accept that, insults aside, there is no such thing), probably a Simon Hughes supporter who has calculated that Campbell is more vulnerable to Huhne than their guy. It can’t be the Campbell campaign mouthing off; they’ve had a lot of false starts so far, but they simply aren’t that stupid.

Good fun to be had by all.

UPDATE: More information in this interview.


  1. I think for once you’ve got this one wrong. I’ve been taken aback by the (private) bitterness from some in the Campbell campaign towards Chris, and this latest attempt (by whoever) to damage his campaign is little more than a silly smear which does the perpetrators no credit.

    Similarly the claims about Chris and the environment are nonsense – as a councillor in Chris’ South East Euro seat, there has been a steady stream onf news and campaigning stories in which the environment has played a key part. As a member of the Tax Commission a few people have latched onto the debate about green taxes – I’m one and Chris is another. It’s a breath of fresh air and the negative stories are a sure sign that Chris has set the agenda.

  2. I simply cannot accept that anyone on the Campbell campaign would be so stupid as to start putting out this sort of line. The party has been immeasurably damaged by this sort of anonymous briefing over the past few years, it lowers the tone of the debate and it makes it look as if the Campbell campaign is having an internal nervous breakdown. I just can’t believe that anyone – certainly not an MP as Andrew Pierce claims – would be so completely gormless as to start playing this game.

    If it’s true however, we need to get rid of them quickly. We’ve just had our month of hell caused by the poor judgements of senior politicians – the last thing we can afford is another.

  3. Nah, this has nothing to do with Simon – looks like a squabble between over excited activists in the Huhne / Campbell camps.

  4. It is always sensible in these circumstances to ask yourself cui bono?

    The answer to that is Simon Hughes, so it is a reasonable assumption to make. Like I say, is anyone in the Campbell camp so stupid as to shoot themselves in the foot in this way?

  5. I’m not so sure that this has to be a Hughes stunt, James. As I said when Nick Clegg published his Guardian article, I think some of the Campbell camp are rattled, and when people become rattled they can do silly things. If anything, I think the Campbell people are even more anxious now (especially those who support Campbell as a proxy for someone else).

    Even if we want to analyse this as conspiricy rather than cock-up, I’m not sure that some people around Campbell wouldn’t prefer Hughes to get into the second round rather than Huhne.

    But in any case, I hope all the campaigns will remember that this will be over in a few weeks, then everyone will have to work together.

  6. Saying the source is Simon Hughes is certainly not a reasonable assumption to make. It’s an absurd over-reach. Surely the simplest explanation is that the briefers are from ‘bridge to the future’ Campbell supporters who are annoyed at Huhne for running when they believed he’d pledged not to, possibly ruining their shot at the leadership down the line, and are trying to damage him? I agree that it’s highly unlikely to be orchestrated by Ming himself, but some of his ambitious supporters haven’t shown themselves to be exactly over-encumbered with political acumen. Take David Laws, who released his Orange Book just before an election campaign, muddying the waters over the LibDem’s election manifesto and personally writing a chapter proposing an insurance-based health policy that had be considered, and rejected, by the Lib Dem’s own public services policy commission.

    And by the way, that commission was chaired by… guess who?… Chris Huhne. Huhne was so moved by Laws’s Orange Book chapter, in fact, that he wrote a liberator article titled ‘Insurance Fraud’, sub-titled ‘David Laws is wrong to call for health social insurance, which the Liberal Democrats have rejected for good reasons’. See for the article. Seems to be more of a motive here for Laws than Hughes, who has, whatever his faults may be, a pretty good record of loyalty to the Lib Dems as far as I know.

  7. I nearly fell of my chair when I read (post No 7) that Simon Hughes has a “pretty good record of loyalty to the Lib Dems”.


    Those with long memories will recall that immediately after the 1989 European Elections Simon publicly threatened to defect to the Greens.

    Neither Campbell nor Huhne has ever threatened to betray the party, as far as I can tell.

    It is erratic behaviour of this sort which cost Simon the leadership in 1999, and will probably pip him at the post this time too.

  8. I did qualify my claim with ‘as far I know’ – my political memory doesn’t stretch back as far as 1989, I’m afraid 🙂

  9. The idea that Chris is an “Orange Booker” is interesting. He contributed a chapter on strengthening the United Nations, and publicly attacked the most distasteful parts of the book, as Gareth and Ranald have noted.

  10. Have heard a couple of suggestions from well-placed people that Chris’s predecessor the Lord Chidgey, who is a publicly declared Ming backer has had a hand in this debacle.

    But then one of the people who whispered this to me also said that the coulis served up with the breaded chicken in Portcullis House this lunchtime wasn’t utterly revolting – a claim that is clearly wrong.

    So take the claim, and the coulis, with a pinch of salt.

  11. Not having taken an interest in politics at the time, I didn’t know that defection allegation had ever been directed at Simon. Apparently, it was made in a story in the Observer. I can’t track down that article, but here are bits from some others that reference it.

    The Sunday Times, 25 June 1989:
    Simon Hughes, the Democrat MP, is threatening to join the Greens, giving them their first voice in the Commons, claims the Observer.
    The paper claims that Hughes has given his party a four-month ultimatum that unless it resolves its internal differences, he will consider defecting to the Green party.
    But Hughes told The Sunday Times: ‘I couldn’t join the Greens because they have policies on Europe that I do not believe in.
    ‘What I am saying is that we have to get a radical cutting edge to our own party. It needs to be seen to be a green party and it needs to be a proper Liberal party. If not, I will have to decide what I am going to do in parliaments to come. I wouldn’t resign in this parliament.’

    The Independent, 26 June 1989:
    Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat MP for Southwark and Bermondsey, has denied an Observer report that he was threatening to defect to the Green Party. He said in a statement: ‘I was elected as a Liberal, my constituents expect me to stay in Parliament on the platform on which I was elected, and that I will do until the end of this Parliament.’

    The Time (Atticus), 5 February 1989:
    Paddy Ashdown’s Social and Liberal Democrats seem to have won the battle for the green vote. A letter addressed simply to ‘The Green party, House of Commons’ was duly delivered to Simon Hughes, the Democrat MP for Bermondsey, who once threatened to stand on a Green ticket rather than accept the Liberal-SDP merger. Labour and the SDP were said to be green with envy.

  12. I think you’ve called this one wrong James.

    This briefing is very similar in tone to what some of the Campbell campaign MPs have been saying a little too conspicuously around the place.

    They are clearly worried about the impact Huhne’s campaign is having and see their own ‘young cardinals’ strategy starting to turn ‘tits up’.

    The critcism of Huhne’s record in the EU is quite bizarre. Through his work in the EU – particularly on the Finance Committee – Huhne has actually improved EU legislation that affects UK businesses to a far great extent than most Lib Dem MPs can dream of.

    And while he may not have put down loads of environmental questions – he presumably left that to the Lib Dem MEPs responsible for environmental matters – he certainly campaigned hard on green issues in the South East as MEP.

  13. sorry james, I do think you have got this completetly wrong. To ask your cui bono? question the answer is the young turks (davey,clegg and laws) who are backing ming as a temporary proxy for there own (entirely legitimate ambitions)
    The worst case senario is a 10 year huhne leadership at the end of which the intake of 2005 will be contenders. the bext case senario is huhne does very well and will fight again when ming leaves. However he will now have vastly higher name recognition, organisation. As a second place leadership contender he may well get the vacant “big job” going which the others may have felt belonged to them. basically there “coronation” and now “bridge to the future” strategy is going tits up and they are bitching publically. and after the way kennedy was disposed of who can be surprised?

  14. So far as I can tell from this thread, no-one actually has the slightest idea, let alone any proof, who might be responsible for these rumours. Which makes the idle speculation a tad pointless…

  15. I did not recall that Simon had denied the allegation.

    But I do remember George Dunk treating it as true and expressing indignation.

    That jarring phrase “radical cutting edge” was used by supporters of Dr David Owen when Owen was attempting to become Leader of the SDP in 1983 to suggest that their man was somehow to the left of Roy Jenkins (somewhat ironic, considering what eventuated).

    Owen is one of a class of persons who poses as a radical and an iconoclast but is in reality deeply reactionary and pro-establishment (Lord Denning is another classic example).

    Simon Hughes certainly is a radical, but the trouble is, his cutting-edge isn’t always accurately directed.

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