Monthly Archives: October 2007

Littlewood and the Westminster Hour

Some interesting points here from Mark Littlewood regarding the Lib Dem leadership contest.

I agree with him that Chris Huhne needs to present himself more as a team player, and that Nick Clegg should be wary of relying on a campaign team that nearly lead Ming Campbell to defeat. I also – strongly – endorse the idea that the candidates need to big up their differences, something that both of them appeared to be at pains to minimise over the weekend. Then again, when you attempt to tease out a difference in the gentlest of ways, as Huhne did yesterday in the Torygraph, the media jump on it and suggest it is dirty and underhand.

On the Westminster Hour* last night I attempted to do that by presenting it as a contest between the strategist versus the communicator. Richard Grayson poured cold water on that suggestion, pointing out (correctly) that both Chris has shown he can be a terrific communicator and Nick has shown he can be a strategist in the past. It’s certainly fair that I may have over-egged the pudding, but ultimately insisting that the two are equals in every way doesn’t particularly help people make up their minds.

Bottom line: you only need to flick through the Sunday papers to realise what an effective job Nick Clegg has done to sell himself to the media. But at the same time, you only need to flick through half a dozen random policy papers to realise to what degree Chris Huhne has dominated much of our policy-making agenda. Before the leadership election there was his public services review. And he may have lost in 2006, but it was broadly his agenda, not Campbell’s, that the party followed in the subsequent months.

There’s been very coming from the Clegg camp today regarding campaign messages (sort your bloody website out!). Huhne by contrast has made two significant statements. One is that he has affirmed that PR ought to be a deal-breaker for any coalition deal. The other is that he would want Kennedy in his Shadow Cabinet.

All I can say to that is: good balance. Few people outside of the party or ERS will care particularly about the PR message, but it is important to Lib Dems (and ought to be important to the rest of you, but there you go). The Kennedy call meanwhile is very much tailored to appeal to the media and the wider public. It also makes good sense for the party to bring him back into the fold.

So a much needed good day for Huhne and an indifferent day for Clegg. On the other hand, yesterday was a terrific day for Clegg.

Still undecided…

* The piece on Winchester which immediately preceeded this interview can be found here.

Rethinking policy

Over at OpenDemocracy / OurKingdom, I’ve written a think piece about how we might rethink the Lib Dems’ policy making process. There’s lots more I could have put in there about increasing the level of deliberation and the role of local parties in the process, but I was wary of getting too technical.

With the leadership debate getting into the swing of things, now would seem like a good time to have a debate on this. This is only my first attempt to get my head around things; I accept for example that in practice the difference between short term policy and long term vision is not as clear cut as it might be. But overall, I stand by my overall claim that the party needs to put much more emphasis on vision and worry less about the parliamentary party’s role in developing and adapting policy.

Celebs vs Cerebral

Candidate A has an article in the Telegraph today bigging up his social justice credentials. Candidate B has an article in the Observer today bigging up his celebrity friends and that he’ll be meeting Halle Berry this week.

Candidate A is definitely giving the activists, including me, what they want. But Candidate B seems to be doing a much better job at communicating with broader public.

It seems to me that if Candidate B is to avoid being dismissed as a bit of fluff, he has got to start offering the membership a bit of meat. But if Candidate A is to look credible, he has got to demonstrate he can widen his appeal.

The druggie versus the hoodie

What’s worse? Huhne’s LSD-associated past, or Clegg’s past encounter with peyote?

Seriously for a minute, is that Times article on Huhne accurate? According to it, Huhne’s name is on the article. But according to the copy which I pilfered from that nice Mr Fawkes (February 2006, by the way), no name appears anywhere on the article, probably because if anyone admitted to writing the article they’d have been kicked out of university.

Isis article on drugs

Can anyone see Huhne’s name on this page? I’ll happily issue a correction if I’ve missed it. But I suspect that Guido would have made rather more of it at the time if that was the case. I notice that the Times chooses its words carefully such as stating that his byline was “attached” and has not published the article on its site as proof. Why would that be?

Homeopaths resort to legal action to cure all headaches

A few weeks ago, the political blogosphere united to condemn the actions of Alisher Usmanov and his lawyers for attempting to shut down Craig Murray’s blog. We were right to do so; what made Usmanov’s actions particularly reprehensible was the way he used the law to intimidate Murray’s hosting company while cowardly avoiding a fight with Murray’s publisher who had already printed the allegations two years previously.

Now, Ben Goldacre draws our attention to another attempt to shut down a blogger. This time the fight is between a scientist and the Society of Homeopathy.

Andy Lewisallegations seem quite straightforward. The Society has clear guidelines and Andy has what appears to be relatively clear evidence that one of its members is in breach of these guidelines. This isn’t about homeopaths making exaggerated claims about curing head colds to middle class Brits either, but involves potentially dangerous attempts to market homeopathy as a cure for malaria in Kenya.

Andy Lewis demanded answers: the response was a writ issued to his hosting company who subsequently took down the offending article. Sound familiar?

Sound familiar? It should do. There’s a growing list of bloggers who are protesting about this. So come on then Tom, Iain, Guido, Tim and others, how about it?

Ministry of Truth: “our film was a load of old toss”

I suppose honesty is a virtue:

I’m getting into exactly the kind of debate that would fill an LSE lecture hall and keep the public watching Rebecca Loos make a pig ejaculate.

The path we chose was the academic’s polar opposite without the farmyard.

So there you have it. The limits of the Ministry of Truth’s ambitions was to make a programme with the news values of the basest example of reality TV anyone could think of, in the name of populism. And even then the best slot they could get was 11pm on BBC2. Wonderful.

Nick Clegg: burying Caesar?

Am I the only one who finds it quite confusing that LibDems4Chris is written by a guy called Nick?

For the record, I really am still genuinely undecided. My assessment is that Chris is the better strategist and Nick is the better communicator. Nick will win my vote if he can convince me he has some idea about how the party must organise and Chris will win my vote if he can overcome his seemingly poor reputation within certain parts of the media. The latter is important because certain journalists really do seem to have their knives out for him and viscerally dislike him in a way that could be quite damaging. Having seen what they did to Ming, that is currently toppermost on my mind.

Nick Clegg’s speech yesterday was interesting. Unlike Huhne, he made a point of paying tribute to Ming at the start. Unlike Huhne, he laid into Ming’s tenure. Despite crediting Ming for giving the party a clear sense of direction and purpose, he goes on to say that:

For two years now, the Liberal Democrats have been caught up in internal self-analysis. We cannot go on testing the patience of the British people.

I’m not sure these two conflicting statements make any sense together. Without the boring old navel-gazing that Clegg deplores, we would not have the sense of direction and purpose that he praises. And it was Ming, as Chair of the party’s policy, who oversaw that introspection, so it is he, by association, that Clegg is blaming for the party’s shortcomings. To paraphrase another Shakespeare play, is that a dagger I see before me?

The bottom line is that a bit of self-analysis was sorely needed after the 2005 General Election. The last Lib Dem General Election campaign was the least inward-looking we had ever fought; it was did the least to “stand up for the liberal instincts of the British people.”

I suspect that Clegg knows this. Rather, I suspect this is a pitch for that school of activist who has no time for the party’s policy development and prefers, to use Simon Titley’s words, “mindless activism“. This is a way of pushing people’s buttons, of posititioning himself as the blokey, action guy as opposed to the unforgiveably cerebral Huhne. Clearly Team Clegg have been reading The Political Brain during their summer holidays.

Fair play to them. It is something that Huhne can’t afford to be blind to. He needs to find a way of neutering this particular line of attack, and quickly. But by the same token, Clegg needs to be careful not to let himself become a prisoner of his own rhetoric. Despite our democratic structures, the research shows (my research in fact, hem hem), that the Liberal Democrats are in fact the least introspective of the three main parties. It hasn’t gained us electoral pre-eminence. There is virtue in a degree of introspection: I would argue that the “meeting the challenge” project launched by Charles Kennedy (and it is all too notable that I know it as the “meeting the challenge” project, not the allegedly “Trust in People: Make Britain free, fair and green“), has still not managed to give us anything like the sort of coherence that we need. As I wrote on Monday, until our long term aspirations are a closer fit with our short term commitments, we will continue to look opportunistic (because that is exactly what we are being). Nick can flutter his eyelashes at the media as much as he likes, but they’ll continue to give us a hard time if they continue to perceive us as little more than a bunch of chancers. In short, he is in danger of adopting a strategy that will neutralise his greatest single selling point.

EXCLUSIVE: Team Kennedy backs Huhne (updated)

Originally posted: 19 October 2007, 10.27am.

Thus far, it has looked like Nick Clegg has been getting it all his own way with regard to getting public support from the party establishment. The support of Steve Webb and Paddy Ashdown are, for differing reasons, clearly coups.

But he hasn’t entirely had it his own way. I understand that both Anna Werrin and Dick Newby – the key figures of the Charles Kennedy leadership team – have joined Chris Huhne’s campaign. Is this tacit endorsement of the former leader himself? Both have remained close to him.

UPDATE: Late news here, but Candy Piercy, who ran Charles Kennedy’s leadership campaign in 1999, has also joined Team Huhne.

Tooth Review: 1559 (Obligatory Spoiler Warning)

A return to form for Dredd and Button Man IV, a great send off for A.B.C. Warriors, but the worst was left til last for Stone Island…

Prog 1559Cover: Disappointing. Mek-Quake is a peculiar-looking robot and drawn from this angle just looks rubbish. Clint Langley can’t seem to decide whether to give him a neck backed with hydraulics, as here, or a Bisley-esque snake-like one, as in the strip inside. The guns firing just look like particularly bright torches.

To top it off, the quote from Death Ray magazine (“A very well presented, well-balanced modern comic”) sounds about as inspiring as Iain Duncan Smith. Overall, not great. Still I bought it anyway.

Spoilers below… Continue reading Tooth Review: 1559 (Obligatory Spoiler Warning)