Wednesday, February 21, 2007

 

Liberals Surge in Polls

I don’t usually set much store by opinion polls, but last night’s meeting of the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Policy Committee had news of such an extraordinary improvement in the opinion polls for the Liberals, which prompted a few little cheers (we were that excited) that I felt I just had to share it with you. Of course, under the Chatham House Rule*, I can’t reveal which member of the FPC revealed this detail to us, nor the name of the party leader who was cock-a-hoop about their sudden surge (apparently reflected in recent months across several polls, to be fair).

So join with me in celebrating that after decades of languishing in single figures (at one stage even falling below the 5% threshold needed for election), the German Freie Demokratische Partei has now soared to a towering 14% in opposition to the Grand Coalition of Mrs Merkel’s CDU-CSU and the SPD. Makes you think.

In other news about European Liberalism, the FPC last night also enjoyed a long and excessively fascinating discussion about the recent Congress of the European Liberal, Democratic and Reformist party – of which the Liberal Democrats in Britain and, indeed, the German FDP are constituent members – held in Bucharest. If you were one of the delegation from the UK, feel free to post a comment or e-mail me (click at the side of this blog) to explain just why you were unable to organise your way out of a paper bag. In particular, if you were one of the many delegates from the Liberal Democrats who didn’t bother showing up, nor bother finding anyone to go in your place and wield your (crucial) vote at the Congress, just what the bloody hell were you thinking? I ask only for information, and not because last night’s discussion suggested a bunch of amateurs who’d be laughed out of a students’ union debate, naturally.


*I try not to talk in jargon, so if you’re not familiar with the ‘Chatham House Rule’, it’s a way of permitting both free discussion without fear of personal comeback and free reportage of the discussion itself:
“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”
Apparently one poor innocent lamb at the previous FPC meeting had never been to any Lib Dem policy discussions in his life before, and was so naïve he reported damning (and in one case, I’m told, even accurate) direct quotations from named individuals in just such a way as to advance his case and damage theirs in an article in the esteemed pages of Liberator. What luck that his obvious misunderstanding suited his agenda so well! The FPC last night greeted this unintentional faux pas with much love, understanding and genteel indulgence, but I thought it best to make it clear the terms on which gossip reports should be made of meetings so that the FPC as a whole can be held to account but individuals are not intimidated into mistrustful silence or circumspection.



26.02.07 update: perhaps unwisely in view of the nuclear exchanges in the comments, I’ve just made a tiny addition to this piece, so if anyone is tracking changes – in which case, you’ll note that this is the first alteration since it was first published last Wednesday morning – I’ll save you looking for what it might be. As I’ve just published another piece that mentions the FPC (and, as it happens, the Trident debate), I gave that an ‘FPC’ label and added the same three letters to the tags on here before realising it might re-open the specious ‘re-editing’ argument. Sigh. That’s it.

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Comments:
Of course, now, nobody's ever breached Chatham House rules before at FPC have they? ;-)
 
Oh, I was quite open last night that I’m a member of the Liberator Collective (though Liberator’s equivalent of Bernard Ingham might well describe me as ‘semi-detached’) and that in past years I’d frequently write detailed reports of meetings for the ‘Radical Bulletin’ column, and of course I wasn’t the only one, Gareth. On the other hand, I didn’t name people, and took care to be as accurate as possible – though choosing subjects to report that suited my own agenda, obviously – and as a result I don’t think I ever had any complaints.

I don’t remember any meeting in over a decade of attending them when the issue’s been someone quite so brazenly breaking the rule in order to do named individuals up like kippers. It certainly proves that Liberator still matters in the party ;-) David’s article was a great piece of gossip to draw attention to the mag, but I wrote my piece this morning not to chide Liberator for printing something lively when offered – it would have been daft to turn it down – but to warn future ‘Davids’ that not only is it a breach of trust (and David’s a big boy, he knows that) but that knifing people directly can only mean less rigorously debated policy. And what good’s that?

FPC members last night nodded vigorously at my (and others’) argument that it was important to keep meaningful reports about the Committee going; also at complaints that paraphrased comments were dangerous; and again at the suggestion that people could report general arguments but not direct quotations. Alert readers will spot that all three of these cannot be put into practice, so if I report again from FPC I’ll do what I’ve always done in the past and try to make my accounts as near-verbatim as possible (particularly if they’re funny), but identify arguments, not individuals.
 
It is no suprise that the Liberator would lap up such gossiping in an article from a contributor. The breach of etiquette (if that is what it is) is not their fault.

However when looking at the Radical Bulletin section and seeing a host of factual errors when explaining the process of what happened in the Trident working group and at the FPC, one has to question whether the Liberator is more concerned with spin or journalism.

If they are concerened with accurate journalism then it is a shoddy piece of work riddled with error.

If it is spin, well, facts shouldn't get in the way should they.......
 
Alex,
I am disgusted at your attitude. Perhaps you could have had the courtesy to contact me before jumping to conclusions. I have made it quite clear to all concerned that I have never attended FPC before nor even discussed FPC with anyone. My only knowledge of the body has come from the pages of Liberator. Since joining the Liberal Party in 1974 I have steered well clear of the party's committees and given the low quality of debate in January (when you weren't there)and what I have heard of the vitriol and slander on Tuesday night, I think I was right to do so.

Of course, I know and understand the Chatham House Rule (singular - see their website) but I had never heard that it applied to FPC. You've heard of the Westminster bubble, but apparently there's a Cowley Street bubble as well occupied by people such as yourself who assume that everybody has nothing better to do than follow your arcane practices and squabbles.

You may think it naive but what astonishes me is that anyone could get so upset for having their remarks reported (yes, accurately) but calmly and deliberately continue to support Britain's possession of weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps they think that's only a little matter compared to other people finding out what they really think.
David Grace
 
Alex

More power to your elbow.

Liberator is a great deal of fun but, rather like the Sun, is not something one reads with any great expectation of factual accuracy. I'm sure most readers can take Radical Bulletin etc with the bucket load of salt it requires.

However, it's quite another matter when the it comes to misrepresentation of what people have said.

The "peace group" does a fine line in holier-than-thou commentary, and it's a rare delight to find someone with the guts to hold them to account for their own actions. Keep up the good work!
 
Oooh, this is exciting! Did certainly prompt me to read the 3 trident articles in my copy of Liberator.

Not much there that's very surprising in the arguments.

I am however intrigued at David Grace's comment about where he writes (of Alex) "Perhaps you could have had the courtesy to contact me before jumping to conclusions".

Does that mean that David himself will have had the courtesy of contacting Neil Stockley, Geoff Payne, Julie Smith & co before 'quoting' them in his piece? Perhaps he can clarify that.

More generally, it seems rather counter-productive when trying to win your argument to attempt to ridicule named individuals.

Personally, I'm genuinely undecided over the merits of the motion & amendments themselves, but neither side seems to be covering itself with glory with their tactics in this debate.
 
There’s a very long reply coming up, so here’s the short version first. I don’t know the detail of what happened at various Trident-related meetings of which there are varying accounts, and nor do most readers.

So I’d encourage FPC members who were there to write into Liberator with their versions of what happened. Or, as that won’t be in time for Conference, to attempt to refute David in detail in the Lib Dem Voice boards, or even in my comments here, if you must. That’s the only way party members will be able to decide the truth for themselves – not by David acting like an outraged virgin to try and stop me asking questions, or with faux offence at my ribbing him. Now on with the show…
 
Oh, dear, David. It seems you can slag off other people by name and with impunity, but if I post something very tongue-in-cheek that might mention you, it’s a disgusting filthy outrage and, ooh, you’ve never been so… I think people can draw their own conclusions from that. Remind me, you’ve never subjected anyone to mockery on stage at the Liberal Revue (not to be confused with Liberal Review), have you? Oh. Ever heard the phrase, ‘Can dish it out, but can’t take it?’

People may also draw their own conclusions about your attitude to the facts when you snidely ‘correct’ me by pointing out there’s only a singular ‘Chatham House Rule’. What? You mean like the one that I refer to in the singular, quote in full, and link to their website for full explanation? Anyone would think you weren’t interested in the facts, and just wrote the first thing that fitted your prejudices. It’s all been there since five past nine yesterday morning (not an edit), so every person who’s read the piece will have seen it.

As the full discussion of Trident was the only meeting so far since I was re-elected to FPC last year which I’ve been unable to attend, I don’t know whether you or the other people (some of whom say you misquote them, and not one of even the FPC members on ‘your side’ objected to that, which doesn’t give your protests any support) have been the more accurate, so I hadn’t replied to the allegation above that the ‘RB’ piece for which I deduce you were responsible – correct me if I’m wrong – but rather a lot of people were pretty convincing about errors in it the other night. Your obvious lack of interest in the facts here doesn’t encourage me to believe you elsewhere, so I’m glad I’ve asked some questions among the Liberator Collective. I know they’ve been copied to you, so feel free to publish those in full on your blog if you like as long as you also publish the blustering nonsense to which I was replying (as the blusterer himself is the one who copied the argument to you, I’m sure he’ll agree to your publishing him – not that permission to quote people matters to you). They’re written down, so you’ve got no excuse for misquoting me. I imagine, though, that giving both sides would be less flattering to you.

I just raise an eyebrow at the way that several people think asking questions about the truth of contradictory accounts is such a bad thing for a Liberal to do. Funny, that – I always assumed asking questions instead of blindly believing received truth in the teeth of the evidence was pretty key to Liberalism. You’ll notice that a poster here is comparing Liberator to the Sun for its accuracy; I think being reckless with the facts invites just that sort of attack on the mag, and means it’s less persuasive (shame they’re ‘Aloud’ by being anonymous, kind as they were). I’m not convinced all my colleagues on the Liberator Collective think it matters to be taken seriously by anyone who didn’t make up their minds in 1986, but I do.

I haven’t been “jumping to conclusions” about any fact other than that all your activity “Since joining the Liberal Party in 1974”, including sitting on working groups under the Chatham House Rule (you go on at length about this supposedly “arcane” idea, which isn’t a great alibi) and even reading what people have reported in Liberator over the years might have given you a clue about the Rule you quote, then break. Anyone with any common sense would have been able to spot what was dodgy about the mud you slung. I credited you with having that common sense, and with not being a complete fool. For that, I apologise. And, forgive me, but I heard what people said on Tuesday night, and I’ve read your article, and for you to be the one howling about “vitriol and slander” just calls for a belly-laugh.

Your astroturfing attempts at faux-naïveté deserve a belly-laugh, too. Go on, try and place me in a “Cowley Street bubble,” as if I’d not stood openly for election to the FPC and as if I don’t openly shoot my mouth off here. Try and pose as an ingénue in the same post as boasting of your being a member since the year I turned three years old (I’m middle-aged now, by the way). And try and claim no knowledge of “arcane practices and squabbles” when you were a member of the Trident working group and wrote a 16-page dissenting report from it, then wrote up all their “arcane practices and squabbles” for Liberator. Did the Trident working group ever have any meetings at Cowley Street, by the way? Because I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve been physically inside that “bubble” more recently than I have. Just a thought. Or have I missed something, and is this ‘outraged’ act in fact one of the comic routines you’ve been famous for over many years of arcane practices in the dramatised squabbles of the Liberal Revue (as pictured on your blog)? David’s very funny, by the way, readers, on the days when he’s not the subject of the humour. Then he starts to sound like a retired Tory colonel who wants to horse-whip me.

I’m satisfied that at least one of the ‘facts’ in ‘RB’ was wrong – not because mud was slung at people who can’t answer back, in a cowardly way, but because other FPC members were so cross about that that those who actually made the decision in question said, ‘No, it was us’. But David didn’t ask them first, did he? Just slung his mud. Above, he attractively implies that anyone who disagrees with him is in favour of mass murder, so they deserve everything that’s coming to them. Well, that lets you off any moral hook, doesn’t it, David?

I know the Trident debate is getting a lot of people very cross. I know people on both sides are doing and saying things that are a bit dodgy. I just think it’s a shame that people think bullying and trying to stop people answering back is a substitute for debate.


And meanwhile, I notice none of the missing members of our delegation to ELDR Congress have dared put their heads above the parapet. After this, they probably think there’ll be blazing torches ;-)
 
Alexander Wilcock, I've not seen you quite that far off the reservation in an exceedingly long time. Probably not since your first standing ovation at LDYS conference.

That was magnificent, please keep it up.
 
Oh dear, Alex. I do seem to have rattled your cage. I haven't bullied anyone or denied anyone the opportunity to argue back or raise questions. As to the question of accuracy, people need only compare my earlier comment on your blog as written with what you now say it said, to see what a fine regard you have for accuracy. I keep hearing complaints about inaccuracy in Liberator, but no actual details. You know from e-mails elsewhere that I am aware of two minor inaccuracies in Radical Bulletin on Trident of no consequence to the main points made. Nobody else, including you, has specified any inaccuracies.

I really don't care whether you believe what I say about CHR. You don't seem to be interested in truth very much. By the way I am perfectly happy for people to poke fun or riducule or satirise my opinions. What I object to is you libeling me on the basis of hearsay. I didn't contact the people I quoted because I was there when they said what they said and I took verbatim notes. I have now contacted those FPC members I quoted and whose addresses I have, to apologise for breaking a rule which I did not know applied.

Don't worry, I shan't be commenting on your blog again.
 
Well, readers, David has got in late to compose another comedy masterpiece in the early hours – I’m sure you’ll laugh as heartily as I did at “I am perfectly happy for people to poke fun or riducule [sic] or satirise my opinions” from the chap hurling around comedy threats of slander and libel. One of them in the very next line!

If I’m unconcerned for accuracy, why do I keep asking people to post all the different accounts of what happened so everyone – including me – can make their own minds up? David’s shrill objections seem to be to the idea that anyone can question what he said. Well, surprise, I’ve heard several people do just that and was concerned about it, so I’d prefer that people had as much information as possible and could decide the truth for themselves.

David’s wackiest comment is the wholly imagined one that I’ve either edited him (“compare my earlier comment on your blog as written with what you now say it said”) which, er, is impossible, or edited my main piece above. No, David, you needed and received no help from me to make yourself look silly all along. Telling obvious porkies won’t make your previous stories look more plausible, you know. As I noted yesterday, everyone who’s soberly read what I said at the top will know it has said exactly what it says now since five past nine Wednesday morning, including the ‘singular’ reference to the Chatham House Rule, which is what I assume you’re trying to say I lied about.

Techies, is there anywhere that would be recorded? Yes, readers, I know it’s silly to keep arguing about a single letter, but at least I’m aware of how foolish I’m making myself look. It won’t stop me, though (knowing you look ridiculous and still going ahead is probably something politicians are inoculated against) ;-)

Anyway, it’s easy to spot that the explanation of the Chatham House Rule was there from the start: the comedic references to David that started this whole thing off are only there as part of a detailed explanation of the Rule. People who clicked on the link to Chatham House I put there on Wednesday morning will note that their site uses the singular, and, er, I can read. I’ll even make a confession. Up until Tuesday night, I’d always heard people referring to ‘Chatham House rules’, and though I knew what they meant, I’d never looked them up. However, while at FPC I used the plural and was handily corrected by an FPC member – I shan’t name him, obviously – which is why I was so punctilious in getting it right, with quotation and link, before posting the next morning. Sorry to catch you out being snidely untruthful, David, but maybe you should check the evidence before you write things, too. Instead, it’s just that – perhaps not for the first time – everyone else will remember it one way, but David will insist that he has the “verbatim” word of truth against a shadowy conspiracy. No, David, it’s simpler than that. You got it wrong.

Unlike David, though, I will not go red in the face at this point and start shrieking about “slander” and “libel”. That makes you look very silly indeed.

I suspect that, if David did bother reading any of the evidence at all before making up his mind, perhaps his sight was a little blurry for some reason, and he couldn’t tell an asterisk from a letter ‘s’? Or he just read Gareth’s comment at the top and couldn’t tell the difference between us. These young (middle-aged) people, they all look the same, you know.
 
Alex - you purveyor of unthruths ...

... I refuse to believe you are "middle aged"

;o)
 
"Don't worry, I shan't be commenting on your blog again"

And - as if by magic - David disappeared in a mushroom cloud of his own pomposity.
 
I have to say Alex, when I served on FPC I was not aware that the Chatham House Rule applied. Your posting is the first time that I have heard of such a thing. I notice from Linda Jack's blog that she was also unaware. I normally find that it is good practice in these matters to spell out essential rules whenever new members join a committee.

My experience of Federal party committees is that they do not tend to be that welcoming of new members, that they apply unwritten rules all the time and that they operate around London-centric (often Parliamentary) cliques with the sole purpose of perpetuating an establishment view. Admittedly that applies more to FE than FPC.
 
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