Monday, November 26, 2007


BBC Shamefully Undervalues Importance of MEPs!

…Is what I’d normally say if an MEP’s defection got a just brief interview at a quarter to seven in the morning and no mention in the radio or online headlines. But a teeny little partisan bit of me is relieved that the defection of Sajjad Karim to the Tories isn’t bigger news.

It’s a shame to lose him; he’s a hard-working MEP, and seemed a relatively decent man. He didn’t sound hugely convincing talking about David Cameron’s “vision” on the Today Programme this morning, though. If Mr Karim knows what that is, he’s the only person in Britain that does. I suspect a more accurate interpretation of his reason for leaving, but one that’s no less a worry for the Liberal Democrats, is the recent result of the North-West European elections list ballot that seems to have triggered his decision.

Mr Karim – far from declaring his new-found Conservative vision – was an enthusiastic contender in this all-member Liberal Democrat election. I believe he was elected relatively narrowly last time, and that the number of seats in that region (as in most others) is being reduced. With Liberal Democrat members voting for him to be in the same place as he was last time, second, it looks like he thought his job was safer in the Tories. Not an ideological threat, then, but an electoral one is enough for us (and our forthcoming new Leader) to worry about.

I can console myself that the only time I’ve noticed Mr Karim talking about anything controversial rather than just plodding on doing a good job for his constituents (which he does), I thought he was depressingly illiberal, and said so. Not a patch on Evan Harris standing up for free speech to beat extremists on this morning’s Today Programme. But I won’t pretend ideological purity beats regret at his joining the Tories – and I suspect he may not find them as congenial a home.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007


David Davis on a Sunday Morning

I have strange thoughts when I’m a bit bleary. Well, all the time, really, but watching David Davis talking to Andy Marr just now I was struck by the two people he seems to be turning into.

Now, I don’t like the man or many of his more loathsome views, but I’ve long thought he was the most effective Tory spokesperson and, to his credit, he stuck up for some civil liberties when the rest of his party didn’t – against ID cards when the rest of them thought they were a great idea for bossing people about, for example. A week and a half ago, as Paul Walter noted with a shudder, both aspects were on display on the Today Programme: he showed just how effective / dangerous (take your pick) he was by effortlessly ‘winning’ a tough interview of the sort that regularly has David Cameron whimpering; and, even more impressively, I agreed with every word as he forcefully demolished the Labour Government’s bullying desire to lock people up for two months without charge.

Watching his face today, though, it’s not his political Jekyll and Hyde liberal / illiberal stance that struck me. Or if it was, it was in a Dorian Gray way, that both were having their effect on the image I saw on the screen. Is it just me, or is he turning into an uncanny mix of Paddy Ashdown and the Emperor from the Star Wars films? Just take a look at that chiselled jaw, those tightly-narrowed eyes, but also that ghastly pallor, that ‘craggy’ becoming distorted as all that use of the Dark Side begins to take its toll.

Even his outstretched-hand-turned-to-the-side gesture looks like he can’t make up his mind between ‘dead spider’ and ‘Force lightning’.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007


A Victory for Democracy

Pope Benedict has today appointed 24 new Cardinals, increasing the number of Conclave electors for his eventual successor by a fifth in one swoop (after appointing another 15 new Cardinals last year). Catholics round the world rejoiced at this one man, one vote election’s swing from extremely conservative to unbelievably conservative.

‘I’m not running the risk of them electing another wet liberal like me,’ said Pope Benedict (formerly ‘Cardinal Rottweiler’).


Friday, November 23, 2007


Verity Lambert and Doctor Who: Legendary

On this day in 1963, the very first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast. It’s fantastic that it’s still going strong, but the celebrations have been dampened by the very sad news today that the show’s first producer, Verity Lambert, has died at the age of 71. Forty-four years ago, she was not just the youngest producer at the BBC but their only woman producer, and after making Doctor Who a huge success she became one of the legendary figures of British TV, producing such landmark television as The Naked Civil Servant, G.B.H., Minder, Jonathan Creek and Adam Adamant Lives! She even oversaw the 1979 revival of Quatermass.

Verity Lambert was a central figure in British TV through five decades, winning BAFTAs, gaining an OBE, with two of her productions voted in 2000 as the third and fourth Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th Century in a British Film Institute poll of the Top 100 – Doctor Who and The Naked Civil Servant. If you’ve watched TV drama, you’ve probably seen something of hers; if you’ve watched any of those documentaries about the best dramas, you’ll probably have seen one of her charismatic, forthright and incisive interviews; in several just this year, she looked and sounded on top form. It’s dreadful to know she’s so suddenly gone. It’s difficult to oversell her contribution to the industry as both a creative force and a businesswoman.

Still working this year, it was announced just hours before her death that she was to receive a third award (following others in 1991 and 1997) from Working Title Films, this time for lifetime achievement. Sadly she’ll not pick up her award on December 7th, but she’ll be remembered.

Verity Lambert was also recognised on-screen as the Doctor’s ‘mother’ in this spring’s outstanding story Human Nature / The Family of Blood, in which the Doctor becomes a human and, of course, there was only one name he could remember as his mother. The millions of people round the world who love Doctor Who owe her a huge amount for picking the first (and best) Doctor, agreeing the Daleks against the fury of the Head of Drama (her boss), getting the show on the road for the first two years and making it such a success. I never got to meet Verity, but I’m sure she’d have been one of the few people I’d have blushed, looked down and mumbled ‘I’m not worthy’ for. Since I was about five and first read the seminal account of the series The Making of Doctor Who, I’ve regarded her with a degree of awe. Growing up and becoming aware of all her other work and just how talented she had to be to make it, a 27-year-old woman that most of the rest of the BBC treated with disdain, she’s been one of my heroes. She’ll be missed terribly.

November 23rd is usually rather an upbeat day for me. Instead, the loss of Verity has left me feeling bereft. I suspect many of my more Who-ish viewers will be feeling the same. If you need cheering up, I have two recommendations. One is to pop on some of Verity’s finest work, which I’m sure we’ll do tonight; the other is to watch something very silly indeed. One of Doctor Who’s least fine hours was a 1981 story called Time-Flight, featuring Time Crash Doctor Peter Davison, Concorde, the Master and not a lot of glory: there’s now a six-minute version that’s brought me a lot more joy (and far better special effects) than the full-length one ever has, along with a special appearance from my Dad’s workplace of Jodrell Bank, hurrah. Don’t watch it if you want serious drama, but click here if you simply want cheering up with some camp old nonsense, some monsters of which I’m very fond, and a slightly unexpected trailer for Voyage of the Damned – this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special with Kylie! I’ll add my voice to the many people who are already saying they’d like to see that story dedicated to Verity.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch The Aztecs and marvel at just what extraordinary drama Doctor Who was, thanks to Verity, from the very beginning.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Monday, November 19, 2007


Leaders – What’s the Point?

The Liberal Democrat Leadership election is starting to look as unedifying as the media ferment that saw Ming having to resign, and this time it’s largely self-inflicted by fellow Lib Dems. Despite that, I’m still happier with both candidates than with any of those on offer last year (and, yes, that does mean I think Chris has improved enormously). I can see advantages in each candidate that the other lacks, and drawbacks that the other doesn’t share. So to help me make up my mind, I’m trying to consider what a Leader is actually for, rather than the current vitriol.

There are three reasons why I’ve not blogged about this Leadership election until now. The first, obviously, is that I’ve not been blogging much about anything; even by my own standards, I’ve not been well (as well as the usual stuff, the heavy cold which faded only to be succeeded by flu was less funny than it sounds). The second is that I reckon I’ve got a fair handle on both of them and rate both very highly, and even though I started off instinctively leaning slightly more towards one than the other, I’m still unable to decide finally – and the contest has made me more undecided still, meaning I keep drafting notes and then thinking ‘Nah, not any more’ a couple of days later. And, of course, I didn’t want to start from here. After losing both Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell in rapid succession, many other Lib Dems will have pretty low morale and be thinking ‘What’s the point?’ But, with the ballot papers going out this week, those of us still floating have to make up our minds.

The Lost Leaders

In an ideal world, I’d have preferred Ming to be a success – losing two Leaders in two years makes us look a mess, and there’s no denying it. Unfortunately, though Ming sharpened up policy, improved organisation, and by all accounts was better at marshalling the MPs, none of that did him any good. So what is a Leader for? I asked Ming in September why, despite all those improvements he’d made, was it the case that – while I remembered lots of people saying ‘I like that Paddy Ashdown’ or ‘I like that Charles Kennedy’ – I’d never heard anyone saying ‘I really like that Ming Campbell’? Noticeably, it was the only question on which he stumbled (and tried to say I was asking about age, which I wasn’t), and I suspect it was the question he asked himself when he stood down. If a Leader does all the right things but just isn’t popular, does none of the rest of it matter? Is the Leader’s only real job to be a loveable front man? In which case, wouldn’t the party have done better if the last two years had all been a dream and we just woke up to find Charles Kennedy in the shower?

I think Leaders have to do more – but that the demand to deliver instantly on opinion poll ratings may well make politics impossible. So what qualities might others have brought to the role?

Nick and Chris both have it in them to make impressive Leaders, and I expect to be pretty happy with either one. Despite that, I’d have liked a wider choice than two new MPs from the same school, both ex-MEPs, and both with a fairly similar political outlook – which, had they stood a few years ago as part of a wider field, would have had both described unhelpfully as on the modern centre-right of the party, not least because each of them contributed to the widely caricatured damp squib The Orange Book.

Steve Webb was the next-most likely contender, and was usually described unhelpfully as on the left of the party. Why “unhelpfully”? Well, because left and right mean very little these days, and in a party for which the main differences are between Liberals and bullies, or greens and greed, ‘left’ doesn’t tell you much. The way the media try to cram us into labels usually fails – after Ming resigned, Newsnight’s report of the runners and riders said the challenge to Nick was likely to come from a Liberal (meaning Chris Huhne) and a Social Democrat (meaning Simon Hughes), leading us to shout at the screen. Steve’s a brilliant spokesperson, did a good job on the Manifesto That Never Was, and he’s an effective speaker too – though not, for my money, as good as the two ‘finalists’. I think he would have brought an interesting set of issues and views to the campaign. But would his so-called ‘leftism’ have got the support of ‘radicals’? My suspicion is that his prominent backing of Simon Hughes last year had less to do with their economic position and more to do with their shared Christian faith. Liberals might have looked at Steve’s views and thought he was the most socially conservative of the candidates (though only by the Liberal standards of our party, of course). Looking at his chapter of The Orange Book – no, that doesn’t make him ‘right-wing’ on economics – his is the authoritarian odd one out, thinking the state should have more power, and over families, but ducking away from a head-on collision with the pro-marketeers. So does that make him right-wing over social policy?

The opposite problem comes with David Laws, orchestrator of The Orange Book and viewed as the most right-wing bogeyman of the potential candidates. Like Steve, he’s a brilliant policy wonk, and like Chris, he’s good at turning that into news stories. There are plenty of topics on which I disagree with David, but I’d side with him on many of the more libertarian issues against Steve, who I suspect may be more keen on banning things. So on some issues you could call him a right-winger, and on others a radical Liberal. Which is media code for ‘leftie’. Now, isn’t life complicated? David and Steve also have experience most of the potential candidates lack (elected in 2001 and 1997 respectively), as does Ed Davey, elected in 1997 – Ed’s another good speaker and very bright. I suspect he lost out mainly through being not quite as young, not quite as pretty and not quite as good a speaker as Nick.

More temptingly still for me, I’d have preferred to see some of the party’s women MPs in the running – in part because we could do with a woman contender, but mainly because several of them are clearly up to it. Jo Swinson and Julia Goldsworthy are worth putting a punt on for the future (at the risk of raising ‘the age question’), but I’d have liked Lynne Featherstone and Susan Kramer to give it a try this time. Both are superb spokespeople, one more down-to-earth, the other more authoritative. I might even risk grave offence to her by saying Susan might appeal to some Tories missing Mrs Thatcher (and she was much better than Nick rounding up on the last Leadership election). She was a superb London Mayoral candidate, building a profile from nothing and nearly knocking Labour into fourth. Along with David Laws and – should he lose – Chris Huhne, I think she’d at least be a very strong contender to be made Shadow Chancellor, and let Vince concentrate on being Deputy Leader.

The final non-candidate people have pined for was, of course, Charles Kennedy. Too early to come back, to prove he’s up to it again and to rebuild trust in the Parliamentary Party; still a regret, though, and someone else who needs a high-profile post to rebuild the Liberal Democrats once the new Leader’s been elected. There’s a lot of debate on the blogs about what post would be best for him; I have to admit, despite the merits of Ros and Lembit, that I think tying him down to a single portfolio would be a mistake. He’s best at engaging with people on the big picture, and there’s time enough to change the Party Constitution before next year so that he can make another run for Party President. Come on, a largely honorary position which involves going round jollying people up, in effect the deputy leader of the Party in the country (as opposed to Parliament) – there’s no person better-suited to it.

Leadership and the Media

In the end, though, we have two strong candidates. And with Ming “irritated and frustrated” at his media coverage, with his lack of popularity in the press and inability to get them to listen to him being his key reason for leaving, is being able to be loved by the press the key concern? Well, my key concern about that is that I don’t think it’s possible. Of course there were Lib Dems sniping at Ming – but I’ve been a Lib Dem member since I was a teenager, and there’s never been a single day when someone’s not been critical of whoever the Leader is at the time. But Ming was hounded from office entirely by the press, and their sanctimonious hand-wringing when he went doesn’t disguise the fact that the media appear to have it in their power to simply destroy our Leader on a whim. Which makes me wonder – is politics manageable at all? Can it work? Or is it just broken?

Nick Clegg is touted as the media-friendly candidate. Dire warnings are made about what they’ll do to us if we choose ‘the wrong one’. I don’t think that matters. Not one outlet of the old-fashioned media is our friend – and taking their advice will do precisely nothing to save our new Leader if they yawn, stretch and decide to take him down. You want evidence? Almost the entire media told us we had to pick Ming last time. Along with most of the MPs, who tried to stop there even being a contest. Even before Charles was forced out, every newspaper and discussion programme of the small number that covered us had pundits saying Ming’s steady hand was the answer we needed. Then, suddenly, he wasn’t. When Ming resigned, the nearest we have to a supporter tried very hard to say it was a party plot. The Independent offered a pretentious “Merciless” full-page headline, but inside it offered no shred of evidence. They were just trying to cover their backs, because I read the very same paper every day at Lib Dem Conference in September, when the vast majority of the Party thought Ming did well and wished him well, and when every day the Independent had a cartoon of Ming on a zimmer frame, on a life-support machine, as a skeleton… And that was the ‘friendly’ paper. In over 70 interviews by journalists that week, every single one had asked about his age.

And guess what? Neither Chris nor Nick is immune from the age question. Nick cheerleader Linda Jack has (amongst many other attacks on Chris) laid into him because – gasp – he’s old enough to go on a Saga Holiday. And Steve Bell, another cartoonist who depicted 66-year-old Ming as a skeleton, showed Nick as an infant in a nappy the day after Nick launched his campaign. On News 24 after Ming went, Claire Rayner said that at 76 she might start thinking about giving up around 86, at which I cheered; but she then lost all my ageism-related sympathy by patronising LDYS Chair Mark Gettleston (22) and complaining of Cabinet ministers in their 30s and 40s being “Young boys with milk still dribbling down their chin”. Sorry, Claire, but that’s every bit as wrong, offensive and simply stupid. So, Nick is far too young at 40; Chris far too old at 53. That doesn’t leave a very wide window of opportunity for those who wish to run the country, does it? Perhaps – now here’s a thought – we should simply judge whether people are up to the job, and the rest is all bollocks.

The trouble is, we already know that whoever we pick, the media will savage them. Nick will be a clone-of-Cameron-clone-of-Blair; Chris will be a boring adding machine. Of course, neither criticism is remotely fair. Still, anyone willing to put money on them not being the universal media opinion of the new Leader within five minutes of being declared the victor?

The Key Issue?

My biggest problem with assessing the candidates’ media appeal – and it’s probably the key difficulty I have in deciding my vote – is that I think to survive in today’s media environment, between them they have what it takes (though both need to work much harder on seeming anti-establishment), but on their own I remain unconvinced either does. Both are very strong candidates – both are fluent, intelligent, persuasive and know their stuff. What’s the difference? That Nick’s more likely to be liked, and Chris is more likely to be heard.

Nick’s two advantages are the obvious ones. First, he looks better. It’s not just that he’s better-looking, but on TV he’s more natural, more at ease, less stiff. Second, he’s better at putting things into ordinary people-speak – when he answers the question. Less inspiringly, he’s been showing a worrying tendency simply not to answer questions that he doesn’t like, or to seem simply ill-prepared. When his passion shows, it’s captivating, but it doesn’t show often enough. I think his charisma is oversold, to his detriment when people compare the real thing to the messianic ‘sell’, but he comes across as a nice bloke and quite down to earth when he doesn’t waffle. Not as nice and down to earth a bloke than Charles; but slightly less waffly. So he has his advantages, and one of them is that he might be able to shore up our appeal as the ‘nice’ party.

I’ve been contributing tetchily to the argument on Lib Dem Voice about yesterday’s BBC Politics Show, in which neither candidate impressed me (one avoiding the questions, one off-puttingly belligerent). For the lovely Mat, who complained about having to interrupt his Blake’s 7 DVDs to watch the show, I’ll caricature them as Blake, who was sometimes inspirational, sometimes passionate, sometimes clueless; and Avon, who was mean and ruthless but got things done. He was also, incidentally, devoted to Blake, but ended up shooting him. Well before I saw the programme, though, I’d decided that Chris’ greatest strength is also his greatest weakness: that he’s a hungry, ambitious bastard who has an instinct for getting noticed.

In both this year’s and last year’s Leadership contests, Chris has unerringly found the issues that get attention, and in politics you need the killer instinct. Last year, I hoped Ming might be as fearsome as Francis Urquhart; well, Chris is not a clever plotter who will stab you slyly in the back like that. He stabs you in the front and makes sure the cameras are there to see it. He may not be liked, but he gets noticed in a way that Nick’s campaign has been entirely hopeless at doing. It’s a high risk, but is there any Liberal Democrat in the land who is not sick of us never getting a word in edgeways? Chris’ other talent is his consistency. He’s far less dull than he was last year – he’s clearly been working hard at it – and he answers questions calmly, speaking to the point, and always sounding like he knows what he’s talking about. He got a bit ruffled yesterday and make the serious mistake of indulging in putting the boot in, where Nick’s campaign (though not his supporters) have relied on better-behaved innuendo such as Nick’s repeated lines about, for example, not speaking like a policy wonk (gee, who could he mean?), but this has been his first serious error of judgement in the campaign. Nick has been far less consistent in both performance and judgement this time, but hasn’t made any single so serious misjudgement this year – though last year, as the hatchet man for Ming’s campaign, he mounted a public and brutal attack on Chris as ‘Opportunism Knocks’. Chris didn’t whine under fire then, and he hasn’t this year.

I’m worried that Nick seems so easily rattled by relatively gentle assaults, and what this means for us if Nick has to be Leader in the real, nasty world. He seems far too easily floored. Meanwhile, Chris has another potential media drawback – while I’m certain he’ll keep his seat, there is the risk that his 500 majority ‘being at risk’ will become ‘the story’, which won’t stop Chris being re-elected but may stop people seeing us as winners elsewhere.

The choice, then, may boil down to which is more important: to get heard? Or to be liked once people hear you? We desperately need both. My quandary is that each excellent candidate seems to major on just the one ability.

Leadership on Policy

The Leader can’t do it all. It’s mad to think they can. So, naturally, the media perpetuate that myth, and our last two Leaders have faced ritual sacrifice because the rains didn’t come. On policy, the idea that the Leader is a cure-all is particularly pronounced in the media, encouraged by the fact that the candidates have been setting out their policy positions as if they’ll be able to steamroller them into effect as soon as they’re elected. Being the Liberal Democrats, they’ll be able to do no such thing: we vote to accept Leaders, not every one of their wacky (or insufficiently wacky) ideas. That doesn’t mean there’s no point in Leaders staking out a policy position, still less a philosophical one.

No Liberal Democrat Leader can tear up the policy programme like a Tory or Labour Leader, but they have an enormous amount of goodwill and persuasive power. The textbook example of the impact a Leader can have on the Party is, ironically, not from a Leader at all, but a runner-up – Chris’ programme last year was frequently criticised by Ming and even lied about by Simon, but it’s formed the backbone of policy since. Now that’s impressive. So is the way that Chris has managed to take the initiative again this year, when you’d think the cupboard was bare. And while the new Leader can’t overturn policy at will, he will certainly have the right to ask questions and re-open issues… Though I hope this election won’t turn into a referendum on Trident, particularly as I find neither candidate’s answer entirely convincing. Positioning straight to the jugular by Chris, though, and who with long memories (for me, going back before I joined) can fail to enjoy the irony of David Steel announcing specifically that he backs the candidate who’s striking a more anti-nuclear stance than the one supported by Simon Hughes?

Despite the ‘negative’ charge, Chris has put out far more concrete, positive positions than Nick. Chris’ manifesto allowed me to engage, get my teeth into it, find things to agree with and disagree with. Nick’s statement is warm and fuzzy and tells me very little. That leads me to different worries about each candidate on policy. Chris may be too firm on policy, presenting a set menu and putting his Leadership on the line with all of it – but at least you can wrestle with it. He seems desperate to find the issue that lets you get a word in; is it the right one? Is it just to get attention? Nick is instead in no danger of getting too much attention so far on what he says, but on what he doesn’t. So far, the only striking thing he’s said was that he wants us to move outside our comfort zone. That was a couple of weeks ago, and I still have no idea what he means (and judging by how tediously safe his campaign has been, neither does he). Is it just to sound exciting because he couldn’t think of anything? Or is it to get us to sign a blank cheque? I don’t know, and his evasive or tetchy answers to questions he doesn’t like haven’t told me anything more. Assuming it means that he wants the Party’s approach to change, in what way? And will it help? For what it’s worth, and despite my being one of those policy wonks that Nick keeps disparaging, nudge nudge, no names, I think if his analysis is that we need to change our policies to appeal to people, he’s sadly quite wrong. If you’ll forgive a sentence clustered with negatives (it’s late, I’m wrecked): people don’t not vote for us because they disagree with our policies – it’s because we can’t get a word in edgeways. And which candidate is better at doing that, Nick? Whichever wins, I hope they’ll chair the Federal Policy Committee and persuade the Party of their policies, rather than lobbing them at us from a great height.

A Leader must also set much of the Party’s tone and direction. Here, I feel more comfortable with Nick, but I’d like to hear more of the big picture from both. Neither has so far come up with a brilliant, attention-grabbing, instinctively right, or snappy reason why we’re different and why people should vote for us. Why, in short, do we bother, either in mood music or in soundbite form. And I’m sorry to say that both their slogans are rubbish. Chris’ started out as one of those amorphous Fairer, Greener, listier slogans assembled from a kit (like the Meeting the Challenge paper), though I did warm to the ‘People in charge’ bit of it. Now it seems to have metamorphosed into ‘A Liberal Revolution’, which sounds a bit studenty, and not in a good way. Nick, on the other hand, plumps straight for our comfort zone with ‘Britain’s Liberal Future’ – which could have been the title of any of our manifestos for the last half-century, and is indeed borrowed from Jo Grimond’s 1959 book, with a little dash of added patriotism. Mmm, comfy. And I have to say that for all that the litany of ‘Free, Fair and Green’ may not be exciting, each of those words has a certain resonance with the public. Ironically for Nick as the candidate said to be ‘reaching out’, while I love the word ‘Liberal’, I believe it is entirely preaching to the converted.

Leadership and the Led

Last time Ming was the answer for the press and the MPs, and eventually for the Party. This year, that appears to be Nick on the first two counts, and no-one knows for the rest of us. I’ve been writing this for many hours and am very tired so, shh, this is the skimpier bit. Of course the Leader has another job, and that’s making sure people are willing to be led. How consensual or confrontational do you be, how open, and how many people who supported the other one will go along with you?

On the face of it, with so many more establishment endorsements, Nick has the easier job. He also seems to have a less abrasive (if possibly less effective) personality. The media suggests Nick may have a bumpier ride afterwards if he ‘challenges’ the Party, but I don’t think either of us really know what they’ll do. Leaders are like that. I think whichever wins, a sizeable chunk of MPs will be teed off. Well, tough. The Party’s bigger than your ego. And the new Leader should give top positions to his opponent and their supporters, too. Because each has massive talents. But, really, Ming was good at geeing up the MPs, and it didn’t save him. For me, the two wider audiences are more important to give attention to: the Party, and the public. Morale in the Liberal Democrats is lower than it’s been for two decades. If you want the foot-soldiers to work in the Party where that most matters, cheer us up. And public interest in the Liberal Democrats is lower than it’s been for a decade and a half. If you want to improve our votes, get people’s attention and engage them.

As for the allegations of negativity… Well, I’ve dealt with much of that unappetising subject, but the part of the Party that’s really being deeply unattractive at the moment is, I’m afraid, a lot of the blogosphere, and almost entirely the Nick-supporting blogosphere. It’s so much more vitriolic than last year, or than is sane, that I frequently wonder if I’ve accidentally wandered in on another party. We just don’t do bile, as a rule. Yet for some reason, it was horrible from the start. I won’t single out everyone, but there are two offenders that I’ve found particularly make me warm to the person they attack. The big backfirer from Chris’ camp was Matthew Huntbach, who while not having a blog of his own spewed around Lib Dem Voice for several threads that his mysterious inner convictions told him Nick was a Satanic Thatcherite, and that anyone who didn’t precisely agree with Mr Huntbach and particularly anyone with a good word to say about Nick was also a Satanic Thatcherite. He seems to have gone quiet, thankfully. Never quiet, and the single most persuasive voice in tilting me Chris’ way instead, is of course – how could it be anyone else? – Linda Jack.

I find myself constantly perplexed by Linda’s blog. I know her from the FPC, and she is constructive, intelligent, gutsy and often witty. Perhaps she doesn’t have a computer and so has never discovered that some hate-filled obsessive has hijacked her name. Because I genuinely find it difficult to match the two people: the nice one and the horribly, horribly offputting one. Right from the start, she has poured the most appalling vitriol on Chris, taking every issue on which he agrees with her as proof of opportunism and every issue on which he disagrees with her as proof of Satanism. In the last few days, she has been crowing with delight at how he deserves to be thrown from any position he has because he’s so negative – with absolutely no sense of irony. Her blog’s current ‘front page’ shows thirteen anti-Chris posts to five pro-Nick ones, which is still a far better ratio than the almost universally hate-filled comments she’s posted on Lib Dem Voice. I really do not understand what motivates all this – even if she’s never forgiven Chris (nor Ming, who she constantly berated) for beating her hero Simon Hughes last year. Oddly, she’s never commented on the fact that the only candidate to tell flat-out, bald-faced lies about another last year was Simon, about Chris (and I don’t remember Chris nor his supporters constantly bleating about it). Naturally, she proclaimed Simon’s support for Nick as proof that Nick was really a leftie: oddly, when she celebrated his endorsement by Cyril Smith, she somehow forgot to mention that he was seen as the Liberal Party’s one-man far right when, long ago, he was in Parliament. And looking at the attacks on Chris today from Linda and others, I’m astounded at claims that people couldn’t live with Chris as Leader, or that he should be thrown from the Shadow Cabinet – despite holding the only portfolio where opinion polls say we’re ‘ahead’ (and Nick keeps doing Chris down on that, but, whoops, I forgot – team Clegg isn’t negative). This relentless negativity is infinitely more offputting and hysterical than any behaviour they’re denigrating. The fact remains that I’ve not seen a single blogger for Chris saying they couldn’t live with a Nick Leadership, nor a single blogger for Chris saying Nick should be left out of the Shadow Cabinet. If anyone can find examples of anti-Nick bloggers of such ferocity, please let me know and I will turn my fire on them. But I’ve not seen them. And Linda, if you’re reading, I’m sorry to let all this flood out, but really – if you want to aid Nick’s campaign, for goodness’ sake shut up about Chris.

Which Leader Am I Swinging Towards?

Last year I didn’t declare, in part because never felt enthused and I thought a quarter-hearted reluctant endorsement was worse than none at all. This year, yesterday’s interview fiascos aside, I feel much more enthusiastic about both of them. And while from the first I’ve been undecided, at the start of the campaign – well, once it was clear which two were the choice – I leant towards Nick, but not so strongly that I felt I could never change my mind. I don’t know either well, but I know Nick a little better, and was very impressed by him some years ago on the It’s About Freedom paper on the Party’s philosophy: I get the feeling I agree with his Liberal instincts more than I do with Chris. He’s pleasant, engaging, and very bright – he’s absolutely not a lightweight, which is why it’s so irritating to see him give the impression of one in his terminally lacklustre campaign. But I was very unimpressed with his bruising for Ming in last year’s contest, and the only point at which I’ve been impressed with his campaign this year was for about two minutes on last week’s Question Time, when he finally caught fire.

Chris’ campaign, on the other hand, has barely put a foot wrong until putting a foot in it yesterday, when his instinct for what the Party likes failed to inform him that we don’t like ‘nasty’. Chris has raised his game hugely since last year, meaning that the choice we face is of much better quality, if not variety! He has set the agenda, and, come on, Nick – if you can’t set the agenda even in a Liberal Democrat contest, when can you make waves? Chris has really impressed me, and though when comparing performances Nick’s highs are much higher, Chris is consistent where Nick’s answers are too often vague. Nick needs to move outside his comfort zone.

During the campaign, both must say they think the other would make a good Leader (Chris has, though he’ll need to repeat it after yesterday; Nick, despite being ‘the nice one’, pointedly refused to do so when asked twice yesterday) and would be happy to serve under the other. Whoever wins, I hope they give a senior position to the other. I don’t care if they like each other underneath or can’t stand each other. The Party needs both. And it needs the supporters of each to be critical friends of the new Leader, and for the defeated candidate. We should always encourage constructive criticism – but the sort of blazing vitriol that has come particular from Nick’s cheerleaders should be excoriated. In particular, the new Leader needs to be given time to make an impact, and that means the Party needs to hold its nerve. If your candidate loses and the opinion polls don’t improve, then don’t call for your ‘opponent’ to be sacked. Just make a useful suggestion or shut the f*** up.

There is a fact on which to concentrate your mind. It is that no Lib Dem Leader has ever had a new Leader’s ‘bounce’ in the polls. Never, never, never. Though his failure in the polls and no space in the media for him to recover was the overwhelming reason why Ming decided to go, there is remarkably little in the short term that a Lib Dem Leader can do to improve them. I might still vote for either – I would be happy with either. Even if you don’t share that view, remember that dumping another Leader in another year or two would be an act of sheer insanity.

This won’t – hopefully – be my last post on the Leadership. This morning, I go off with Richard and Millennium to ask questions of Nick Clegg, along with other bloggers and perhaps including the lovely Linda Jack. Coming up, with luck: closer analysis of Chris and Nick’s individual and joint question and answer sessions, and my take on which other leading politicians they reminded me of on Question Time

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