Monday, March 03, 2008


That Cowardly Norfolk Blogger Tantrum In Full

Last night, Nich Starling threw a drama-queeny strop breathtaking both in its bitterly negative attacks against Liberal Democrats he’s never met and has never bothered getting in touch with and – as readers of Lib Dem Voice will know – in getting almost all of its facts wrong. I know that several comments have gone unpublished by his censorship (presumably he’ll let them through much later, so he can claim to permit dissent while keeping it all locked up until everyone’s stopped reading) while, rather than apologising, he’s re-edited what he said to make himself look better. Here is the unexpurgated version. In my opinion, it is not suitable for children, or for those of you who may have a nervous disposition.

I drew attention in comments on Lib Dem Voice – which aren’t subject to Mr Starling’s censorship – to the fact that I’d saved it, and have had several requests to see what he said in full flow of vitriol. So rather than repeatedly e-mail it, I thought I’d republish the whole thing. Compare and contrast with his current version (now, as far as I can tell, the third different edit, even with a different title, though I may have missed several of his changes for all I know). The bloggers’ interviews are a marvellous example of bottom-up, do-it-yourself Liberal Democracy in action, organised by someone who isn’t staff or some grandee, constantly and openly looking to improve how they’re done. Well, that’s my view. Here’s Mr Starling’s positive and informed contribution to the debate:
When does one get to enter the "inner sanctum" of Lib Dem bloggers ?

I like blogging because unlike so many things in politics and life, I have the right to state my opinions openly and people can judge what I say by their own values and beliefs. Some might agree with me, some other might disagree, but in essence my views are as valid as any other blogger's opinion. Be the blogger Iain Dale or someone who started their blog only yesterday, it shouldn't matter. All our blogs should be of equal merit, even if clearly some blogs get more readers than others.

Now being a Lib Dem, I thought the party too would want to be seen as being even handed, fair and not too eager to bestow special title or honour on bloggers, but that appears not to be the case.

There is, you see, an inner sanctum, a select few, whose blogs re significant and more important than other Lib Dem bloggers. These bloggers, generally London based, general with "friends" in the right places, get very "special" treatment. Of course, it could be easily argued that Lib Dems based in London will always be able to attend these special meetings by nature of the geography of the country. But just who does get invited ?

I have never been invited to such a meeting and obviously, being based in Norwich makes it impossible for me to attend. But how many other London Lib Dem bloggers get asked ? Who decides who gets on the list and what are you expected to do in return ?

The danger is for those who attend these meetings that they are seen to lose their objectivity. They will be seen by readers to be following the party line or going easy on people because they want to keep their place at the table in the inner sanctum.

There is also a real danger that regional bloggers are seen as being outside the loop, not on message and therefore not worthy of special access to the top people. This is actually rather dangerous as it pushes the premise again that only London matters. As a party committed to devolving power, this seems at odds with the Lib Dems core beliefs.

If I were London based I would probably want to be able to attend, but equally, I would want these meetings to be more open to new bloggers, more open to all those people in the party who might disagree with Lib Dem policy, in general, more in keeping with the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution which states ;

"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."

The key words for me are "fair, free, open and equality". It seems some specially selected people in the Lib Dem community are, are more free and equal than others.
Posted by NB at 21:09 0 comments
Now, wasn’t that charming?

Let Me Count the Ways In Which That Was B******s

I responded at length on one of Millennium’s open invites to the interviews on Lib Dem Voice – the ones that Mr Starling would have known about if he ever listened to anyone but himself (or Iain Dale), so I’ll republish that, too. First, I was positive and factual:
And another bump for the opportunity to interview top Lib Dems either for your own blog, or to write it up here!

To recap Millennium, above: the people short-listed for the Liberal Democrat Blogger of the Year Award were invited to interview Ming last September; my beloved Richard, at Millennium’s behest, then did all the work of organising interviews with the two Leadership candidates (more time and effort than you might think!); then the first bunch of us decided to open it up first to the prize-winners from the other categories, then – as Richard’s been organising more of them – Millennium’s post above was the next attempt to open up the interview panel, followed by the invite to join in for Ed Davey (when the first two people to volunteer on LDV and one who got in touch directly got to turn up alongside some of the original crew – and so could you!).

As this is the most-read Lib Dem blogging site, it seemed the best place to put the invites, rather than just the ego-and-stats-boosting option of us just mentioning it on our own blogs. So keep your eyes peeled for when the next one comes up.
And then I mounted my critique of Mr Starling, republished here complete with original mistakes, some of them apologised for:

OK, now, I don’t like having a go at another Lib Dem, particularly one I’ve not met and who may be very nice in real life, but there are two things I dislike more: someone having a go at the man I love (well, everyone’s protective of their loved ones); and cowardly attacks without naming people but when everyone knows who the attack’s on, which offends my sense of natural justice. If I set out to criticise someone, I do it in my own name and name them outright so they can reply, rather than spreading bile like a gutless worm. And I admit I made a little sideswipe earlier, so here’s something open, honest and attributable.

So, let’s be clear: do not be put off applying here by the self-aggrandising innuendo of Norfolk Blogger Nich Starling, who thinks he’s not good enough [obviously I meant to say “too good”] for a general invitation and had to have a special personal one. Because the only possible alternative explanation is that there’s a secret cabal of people offered special favours to suck up to the establishment and expressly martyr Mr Starling (rolls eyes).

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re involved in politics. And, look, you know things don’t happen by magic, don’t you? Someone has to get their finger out and do it, and hard work gets results where sitting and whingeing doesn’t. Why, then, do these interviews take place?

Because Richard had the idea and took it upon himself to do all the work: everything from chasing MPs’ diary secretaries to buying the doughnuts. And other people than the six who were short-listed come along because Richard did the work of getting out invites on here for everyone to read, after starting this discussion about how to invite people.

Why doesn’t Mr Starling interview top Lib Dems?

There are two possible explanations.

Is it because, as he claims, there is a secret (widely publicised on Lib Dem Voice) cabal of people who have (unnamed and so handily unprovable) friends in high places and are hand-picked from people who are slavish apologists for the establishment (no, no, don’t titter, madam, you might even believe it if you’ve never, ever read any of the blogs in question, though it’s ironic that the only one Mr Starling links to is James Graham’s tearing Ed Davey into pieces – gosh, James, what are you like when you say what you really think?), all of them part of a London-only elite (like Jonathan from Market Harborough, Linda from Bedfordshire, Jonny from Oxford and Manchester, etc, etc…)?

Or is it because he didn’t bother asking to come along when Millennium asked for volunteers, has never, ever dropped Millennium a line, and can’t be bothered to organise any interviews of his own, believing it more productive to pour poisonous and ludicrous accusations on the people who actually bothered to do something positive and, by implication, particularly the person who does all the work?

Only you, dear reader, can unpick this impossible conundrum to discover the truth.

But seriously, please, if you want a fair, free and open Liberal Democrats, don’t be put off. If you, too, have stayed up too late at night reading The Da Vinci Code, you’re of course free to believe there’s some shadowy conspiracy, but it’s one to which everyone has been invited, and will continue to be.

I decided to reply to this open invitation to make the point, and to make it where it’s likely to be read by the largest number of Lib Dems. And, I’ll be frank, because I raised an eyebrow at replying on Mr Starling’s blog, which is subject to his censorship and which would be a reply to a post he’s already put weasel words into since his initial outburst in an effort to make what he said look less daft. It’s no less nasty, though (as I write, at least!): no apology; no constructive suggestions; just changing some of the facts to cover his a**e while still having a go at other people for no reason.

Now, I’ve never met Mr Starling. Most of what he writes isn’t much to my taste, though I’ve quoted him approvingly a few times on my blog when he’s written stuff I thought was good (for example). I’ve got no axe to grind, no chip on my shoulder, and he’s never run over my dog. But I might read him more often if there was less self-righteous paranoia; sometimes he writes like anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that he, personally, is the greatest thing since sliced bread must be part of a global conspiracy against him. What other reason could there be? Well… Some people just have different tastes. That’s the point of blogging, surely?

So, Mr Starling, if you’re reading – chill! Not everyone has to conform to the view that you’re the greatest blogger on Earth, but that doesn’t mean they have anything against you. And it takes poverty of imagination to assume that if you don’t get a special personal invite, there’s some inner cabal that lives only to get at you. But what really gets my goat is you trying to enforce your ignorance on other people by telling everyone that only some secret group gets to interview the top Lib Dems. And just why was your first response to accuse other Lib Dems of everything under the sun rather than, you know, ask someone for the facts? Play nice. If you can get to London the day the next interview takes place and you volunteer early, you’ll be coming along. If for some reason you can never leave Norfolk, why not organise interviews of your own with Lib Dems there? Or do an interview live online? But if you’re just too grand to read Lib Dem Voice like all the rest of us and too lazy to do any work yourself, don’t [go] into yet another drama queeny strop.

Reader, if you have a Lib Dem blog or are a Lib Dem willing to write up your interview for Lib Dem Voice, seize your chance to interview people through the interviews Richard organises. And if you aren’t first to volunteer and don’t get a place, try again, or – here’s a thought – why not pick a Lib Dem MP and interview them yourself rather than expecting it all to be handed to you on a silver platter? That’s what Richard does, after all.
The issue of regional meetings has been discussed by people who’ve done some of the interviews, and who’ve posted to the Lib Dem Voice thread that Mr Starling still pretends doesn’t exist, by the way. Richard tried to organise an interview with Nick Clegg in Liverpool (he was too busy, understandably), but I notice Mr Starling makes no positive suggestions, merely whingeing and mud-slinging. But as every MP is based in London, and as Richard lives in London and does all the work (NB and is neither a Lib Dem bigwig nor staff), there are logistical problems, and no-one else – least of all Mr Starling – has offered a solution.

Following that, I posted a comment in reply to what was then the current remix of his article, in which he took out some of the more ludicrously over-the-top foaming and added some pretend concern that people without blogs couldn’t come to a bloggers’ interview (the clue’s in the question):
Oh dear.

Your latest re-edit of your work is “equally, if I were not a blogger, why shouldn't I be able to attend such meetings ? Should bloggers be getting special treatment ?”

If that new moving of the goalposts is meant to be populist, it’s a shame you’ve still not had the courtesy to read the invite here on Lib Dem Voice, which you’ve now had several people post links to. Which makes it clear that if you don’t have a blog, you can come along as long as you’re willing to write the interview up for Lib Dem Voice.

And just what prevents anyone else in the party, or indeed the world, from setting up interviews of their own? Why don’t you do it? Why don’t party organisations? Why don’t groups of interested members? The only reason these interviews happen is that Richard does all the work. Did you think they happened by magic?

Feel free to continue the debate on Lib Dem Voice, where everyone is more likely to read it, where you’ll show you’ve bothered to make some vague acquaintance with the facts rather than making up some nasty conspiracy theory, and where people posting comments don’t have to wait for your censorship to allow them.
Incidentally, I meant to apply the link to the words “here on Lib Dem Voice,” but forgot and left it at the bottom of my comment, so that’s why the phrasing looks a little odd.

Things I Don’t Do Very Well, and Things Mr Starling Does Very Badly Indeed

Now, I’m aware of several of my blogging shortcomings. I don’t mean that I tend not to be brief, as in my eyes that’s an advantage rather than a shortcoming, but things like getting rather unsociable when I’m not well and often not blogging for a while. Even more often, I tend not to get round to replying to comments until it’s really too late. If I spot a typo in a piece, or a come up with a brilliant line six weeks later that should have been there, or just want to add a label at the bottom, I’ll do a niggling little re-edit of blog posts that probably irritates anyone who reads a feed and gets things several times.

In my defence, I’d rather post infrequently and spend a long time writing than post a load of stuff that simply isn’t very good. However, when I do post something that isn’t very good, or where I make a wrong prediction, or where I get my facts wrong – anything that I look back at and think, ‘Well, that was embarrassing’ – I leave it there. I’ll do fiddling little changes and the occasional clearly labelled update, but I won’t change great screeds to make myself look better. I’ve frequently added apologetic updates at the bottom when I’ve got something wrong, particularly if I’ve had a comment that’s pointed it out, but if I’ve made a prat of myself, fair dos, it stays there to warn me to do better next time. Similarly, if I don’t get enough people reading or liking what I write, I assume I should address that by writing something better rather than by inventing a vast global conspiracy that’s out to get me.

I find my respect for Mr Starling plunging now that I can see the way he manipulates his blog to cover himself – and I have no idea if he does it regularly, but his changing a cowardly attack to a cowardly attack modified in a cowardly way to cover up how utterly wrong he was leaves a nasty taste, particularly as that sort of dishonesty is calculated to make critical comments look like they’re over-reacting. I also have no sympathy whatever for someone who makes a cowardly attack and then sets his comment-moderation so that he can delay or reject any comebacks until he’s had the chance to change what he’s ‘said’ again, or just keep them waiting until he judges everyone’s stopped reading and he’ll look less of an idiot. Sometimes people have taken a piece of mine apart in the comments and I’ve never got round to rebutting them. Well, that’s my fault that I look foolish, then, isn’t it? But keeping control of comments like this so no-one can answer back and embarrass you – I just think that’s a cynical, cowardly and dishonest way to blog, and my opinion of Mr Starling has gone through the floor as a result. So much for the self-styled champion of telling it like it is and critic of the “Inner Party” – he’d fit right in at MiniTrue stuffing comments into memory holes and claiming he’s always been at war with Eastasia.

Now, obviously a tiny sliver of what Mr Starling said was an unattributed attack on me, because I’ve done several of the interviews, so I can’t entirely rule out a bit of ego in going ‘grrr’ back. But I think there are much more important reasons why he got on my wick yesterday and today:

Mr Starling, stop being so nasty and try to stop being so stupid. Stop being so lazily negative. Stop just making things up. Stop being such a delusional self-pitying whinger and come up with something positive instead. And stop being such a coward.

Update: if you read through the comments, you’ll now find me putting down the Angry Stick and being rather more conciliatory. Sorry to have been so OTT, readers!

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Yeah I thought all that too.
GRIN Thanks, Joe! Nice to hear from you. And saying it all at about 0.2% of my word count, too ;-)
Incidentally, readers wondering at my recently acquired tendency to bowdlerise can blame my trip to a library the other week, attempting to check something on here, and having to make an embarrassed request for unblocking to the librarian (good people) on the basis that despite all my bad language this is not a porn site.

Besides, my Mum is now in danger of being connected to the Internet.
I feel really embarrassed as I didn't know there was an open invite either - perhaps this needs looking into as to how we can make it clearer? Richard Flowers got all annoyed with me on my blog. I went red :@P

Perhaps it's cos I've only been blogging 4 months :@( Dunno what I'm doin really :@P
Oooh 'eck Alex, I'd hate to see you when you were REALLY angry!!! Now, I will be even more careful to mind me Ps and Qs.

You are absolutely right, Richard has been incredibly inclusive and supportive of this whole process, as I said on Nich's blog, I invited myself and was welcomed with open arms AND Krispy Kremes!
I still find it hard to believe that anyone can have had a go at a FLUFFY LITTLE ELEPHANT!

I echo Linda. It's important no-one is misled by NS into believing that these events are in any way closed. Silent readers, take note.
Whilst I accept that the events in question may not be closed to people outside of 'that London' it is logistically impossible for people such as Norfolk Blogger and myself to even contemplate attending. Other than perhaps moving back to Walthamstow (no chance of that) I have to accept that I will have to make do with blog reports.
I think there is something to be said for holding these events in an MPs consituency, at least some of the time, and using local bloggers.

If I invited myself - and I forget if I did - it would have been to something like this.

Perhaps Millennium might want to see our panto next time round (2 years hence).
Alex, thanks for the link however I have had to remove the original post. Ok so Ididn;t have to remove it - I chose to remove it. Anyhow, I have re-posted it. Up to you if you want to change link. Cheers Bob
In my defence, I’d rather post infrequently and spend a long time writing than post a load of stuff that simply isn’t very good.

Translation: In my defence I'd rather post long diatribes that force the reader to reach for the needles and start inserting them in their eyes, than post short incisive commentary that makes the reader not die on his feet from boredom and think "oh my does this person have Aspergers Syndrome or what? Oh wait no, he's a Lib Dem!"
Being autistic would actually make someone quite a good blogger!! :@P
One thing which annoys me is the 'but I'm not in London!' whinge.

That's tough. You choose for whatever reason to live away from London. I presume missing the odd event like this is not a reason to move to London (I'd worry if it was...)

The fact is that London is the political centre of the UK, nothing's really going to change that. Everything comes with trade offs, where you live included.

If people want to try and organise them elsewhere then why not? I'm sure people will help with advice and contacts.
A Scottish one would be interesting, as would a Welsh one. We've got good bloggers from both those places, we have representatives in the Parliament and Assembly.
Or try and organise one a a conference. More people from outside London will be there, its the ideal place.
Anyway, forming an orderly queue:

Jo, don’t worry; you can keep up with the invites just by reading more Lib Dem Voice articles (I know you already read the ones where you’re mentioned). You have a very odd view of what “all annoyed” means, though (readers can see Richard’s very gentle response for themselves). Perhaps you’re just upset that Richard didn’t respond to your somewhat outré proposal? He’s taken, you know…

Thanks, Linda – and there’s no need for you to mind your language when I’m about, particularly after my undiplomatic language to you after the first bloggers’ interview you turned up at (though it was nicely meant). I’m glad you’ve felt so welcomed; please tell people, as I think – having sometimes criticised you for an attacking tone that might put people off – this time you’re definitely the warmly encouraging one and I should probably put that nuclear weapon down and back slowly away.
Alix – awwhh, bless you! And I’m glad you’ve enjoyed being welcomed into the interviews, too. I suspect I may have been even more cross at someone having a go at a fluffy elephant… I don’t think anyone noticed, though ;-)

Bob – ah, I think you may have noticed, by the way you wrote two articles about me being cross. Crikey! And both links were generated by your articles, you know, so it’s I who should thank you for linking to me. I’m not sure what you mean by “logistically impossible”, though; it is possible to get to London from other places, you know, as other bloggers who’ve come from Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Rutland and so on – to say nothing of my Mum, who found her way there from America – have proved. I know it’s a problem for people whose jobs mean they can’t get the time to come, but that problem applies (to a lesser degree) to many Londoners, too.

The real problem is that no-one has unlimited time, unlimited travel or unlimited money, without which it’ll never be the case that everyone can make it. As has been pointed out many, many times now, though, Millennium asked for suggestions as to how to arrange more (one already, another one tried but Nick Clegg was too busy) meetings outside London three months ago, and while you complain now, you’ve yet to volunteer. I don’t think you’ve spotted that these aren’t organised by the party, or by party staff, and certainly not on a party budget. Richard has a real-world full-time job and, despite people expecting him to act like a member of party staff charged with doing nothing but catering to their wishes, it’s just not possible. He’ll go on organising ‘live’ meetings, with more outside London when possible… But volunteers are more likely to get more done than attacks are, I reckon.
Joe – good point! Thanks for making a positive suggestion about how to get more outside-London meetings. I suspect that many MPs’ constituency time is more full even than their Parliamentary time (not least with the opportunity to see their families!), but it sounds like a constructive idea. As far as I know, you’ve not asked to come along before, but I’d be delighted if you did. Millennium has just put up advance notice of a forthcoming meeting with Nick Clegg, and he’ll be asking for volunteers once Conference is out of the way and details are finalised (or hopefully so, as the rescheduling of Ed proved!). Oh, and we’d all love to see your panto. It’s a shame we missed your Simple Simon.

Dizzy – how could anyone think that Tories are shallow, unpleasant or prejudiced after such a generous and well-considered response? It’s so refreshing to see the stereotype beaten ;-)

Incidentally, Jo, I bumped into a friend who does have Asperger’s just the other day; he blogs very well, though far more succinctly than I do. I suspect neither have much to do with his Syndrome.
And Tristan – a little harsh (says me, after all that!), but some good points. In particular, I’d encourage volunteers to organise their own interviews, particularly if they go to such lengths to open them up to everyone as Richard does. In fact, I have, and so has Millennium, but you can never have too much encouragement! I’d love to go to a Scottish or Welsh interview, but probably wouldn’t be able to: so I’d love to read one, too.

The first interview – the only one that was arranged by the party – was at Conference in Brighton, though as I’ve said, hopes to have one in Liverpool fell through. There’s no doubt it’s the best possible place to make interviews open to the widest possible selection of Lib Dems, so I’m sure Richard’ll make more efforts to secure one this Autumn, where there’s a little more time.
‘And now, the conclusion:’

Looking back on all this, I think it’s a lesson in how not to phrase a debate, really. If Mr Starling had done any research at all without spinning completely fictitious conspiracy theories out of his prejudices and attacking people with them, of course… But I was at fault, too. Obviously I was angry that Richard had put in so much hard work and been so open, and someone was making up nasty stuff and attacking him for it. It’s understandable to want to go into one when a person has a go at your loved ones, but you can’t always live life like that. I should have known better than to fight negativity by going even more negative. I should have eaten an awful lot of chocolate and counted to a million before I posted, and then it wouldn’t have been all guns blazing.

Obviously, I believe I had a point… But I chose a stupid way to make it. As the cause of my anger was that someone was being nasty, and as I wanted to say to people ‘No, look, we’re open and welcoming and nice!’ – well, being nasty back was both daft and probably very off-putting to anyone who might want to come along. So sorry, all of you, and, ah, I’m usually quite mild in person. Please don’t let either Mr Starling or me put you off volunteering to join in with the interviews, and do take a look at this example to see how I can quote his better posts positively and all in the Lib Dem garden can be rosy – or at least that all our prickles can point in the same direction!

All told, I don’t think either of the posts at the heart of this spat will have done much good for the cause of Lib Dem blogging. Remember though, dear reader, that it isn’t always like this: the fact that so many people have paid attention to it rather proves how rare this sort of thing is.

Meanwhile, as it all simmers down, Mr Starling may not have apologised, but has at least been big enough to accept the facts when given a special explanation all of his own. Good for him. I’d also encourage everyone to read the wise and conciliatory words of Mark Valladares, who (hallelujah!) makes some positive suggestions about how some intrepid volunteer might arrange more regional interviews in his “Let peace reign in the land of Lib Dem bloggers”. Well, perhaps ‘peace’ might sound a bit dull, Mark, but ‘vigorous debate while not bunging rocks at each other’ and especially ‘assuming the best of fellow Lib Dem bloggers rather than attacking them out of prejudice, and never going as over the top on a fellow Lib Dem as I did yesterday’ are maxims I shall try to live up to.
gosh when bloggers attack - I haven't witnessed anything like it since the leadership contest!

I do read other articles on Lib Dem Voice as well as ones that mention me...mostly the ones about education...

no, alas, i'm quite glad richard ignored my proposal soon as it was a joke for leap year day!!! :@)

don't be nasty to me i'm a nice girl who knits and makes pretty blankets and things :@)
Oh dear.

Mr Starling has just posted another of his famous ad hominem attacks that’s too cowardly to name the hom, this time making up his ‘facts’ about me instead. While I published what he said in full, he’s again too afraid to link here for fear people might agree with me rather than his own self-pitying fantasy of martyrdom. Feel free to read what he said and make up your own mind: I’m afraid neither of the truth nor of others’ opinions. I’ve posted – well, submitted, obviously he’s yet to publish it – a reply, which suggests we all just put our claws away and do something positive to make the bloggers’ interviews even more open and even more interesting, and directly appealing to him (as I have above, but this time on his own blog) to volunteer to achieve something rather than sit at his computer and whinge.

Again, I’ve never met the bloke. What problem he has that causes him to have an entire bag of Maris Pipers on his shoulder about me is beyond me. I’m not, however, going to write my own post here to fisk his latest fantasies. I’ve put down the shovel. Hopefully, this is the end of it.
I've no intention of commenting on the personal aspect of this debate, mostly because I don't know the people involved personally and I don't feel in any way capable of making personal judgements about people.

At the heart of the matter here lies some fairly profound issues. The first issue and perhaps the only thing that Nich really got right is that there is a London bias, but this is hardly something invented by London Lib Dem bloggers - it is a consequence of historical factors going back centuries. In an ideal world, bloggers from every corner of the UK would have equal opportunity to participate in events like interviews and so forth. But this is not an ideal world, and we rely on the efforts of volunteers to put in their own time to organise these events. For me, that's a good enough answer; I've been a Lib Dem blogger on and off for over two years and have never had the opportunity to attend one of these events, but I'm just not particularly bothered by this. Yeah, it would have been nice if there had been something near enough for me to attend, and it would fit with the party's agenda for decentralisation and moving things out of the Westminster bubble, but I don't regard the fact that it hasn't happened as a conspiracy of any kind. It's certainly not the fault of the people who can and do attend those events that do take place.

I would make a small plea for understanding of those who are a bit pissed off by it all though. In some parts of the country, being a Lib Dem is an avowedly local experience; the local party really is that, almost an entirely local body. The notion that the leader might drop by for a chat with you and a few friends would appear somewhat absurd. In some places, the federal party might as well be based on the moon - you're just not going to get those random social connections that enable you to get the critical mass of people necessary for a blogger interview together. I mean, in order to organise something like this, how many people do you have to know? It's probably quite a lot, once you sit down and work it out. And even if it isn't, I just can't find it easy to blame people for being a bit intimidated by the apparent remoteness of the party's upper echelons. Not saying that I see it this way myself, but I'm just not surprised that some people do. I apologise for labouring the point somewhat, but I really must drive home the point that if you're just a humble blogger based outside of London, you're probably never going to get enough contacts within the party to be able to arrange anything of this kind. This isn't some sort of chip-on-the-shoulder thing, just a (hopefully unbiased) statement of the facts as I see them.

So what's the answer? If we accept that there might actually be a problem, the solution would be to encourage others to arrange these kinds of events around the country. If it really is something that requires only the will to do it, I'm sure it can't be hard to find someone willing to do the organisational leg-work. Perhaps some people could act as regional coordinators, and there could be an established framework for getting hold of people to interview, with a sharing of information and expertise on how best to do this. This might help to overcome the intimidation that some people might feel at having to talk to senior MPs about arranging interviews.

Nich's second point was the possibility that people might be tempted to go soft on the interviewees and maintain the party line in order to have continued access to the interviews. I think that this was probably wrong, although the idea didn't originate with Nich; I remember Andy Darley publicly regretting taking part in the very first interview with Ming for much that reason. Of course, I thought he was wrong then and Nich is wrong now.

Pretty much everything else that Nich said was wrong. I don't know Richard or Alex personally, but I've observed enough of the workings of the Lib Dem blogosphere to know that there isn't some inner sanctum conspiring to keep the rest of us in our place. The notion is flat out wrong. And any personal attack directed towards Richard (although I do have to say that I didn't read the original post as being that personal, more directed against the general circumstances) would be wrong.
Thanks for your comment, Rob!

Very wise to stay out of the personalities; I wish I had, particularly as (though I based my criticism purely on what he said) I’ve never met Mr Starling either, which is why many of his comments bewilder me. And my e-mail’s just pinged with your very sensible comment (er, assuming you’re the same Rob) on Mr Starling’s latest; you’re right, and if it’s any consolation, I realised the same thing and have put the shovel down.

The olive branch is still there, though.

You’re quite right, of course, about the real cause of the London problem, but also about the perception from people outside London (and I know, growing up up North, that I often thought the ‘England’ on TV was very much just the Home Counties). To try and challenge it, Millennium did start a debate about how to widen the geographical circle three months ago – and though there’s been the odd bit of help, the fact remains that Richard did all the chasing himself of staff and MPs he didn’t know… And though he was pretty intimidated too to start with, it’s worked. So if you’ve got a phone, an e-mail account and a bit of patience – all Richard had to badger people – it really doesn’t make a difference to the chasing whether you’re in London or not. Your “co-ordinators” idea would help, though it seems rather more formal, but it does still need someone to volunteer ;-)

I’d like to tease out three positive points to be going on with about how to open this up to a wider geographical base:

Joe suggested arranging meetings with MPs in their constituencies. That could be practical.

Mark Valladares suggested arranging interviews at regional conferences.

As this is all a volunteer effort, someone has to volunteer.

And fabulous, brilliant news – Mark has volunteered to organise a bloggers’ interview at the next South-East Regional Conference! Enormous thanks to Mark, and if anyone can get there, please get in touch with him.
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