Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Leadership election: You've got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative…

It has been a bit of a mess over the past few days. Sadly, the chickens have come home to roost for Chris Huhne, but he can’t say that he wasn’t warned. More than two weeks ago, I noted my concern about hints of negative campaigning, and I know that similar concerns were relayed to the Huhne camp by acquaintances of mine.

This means one of two things, either the decision to go negative came from the top, or the considered view within the campaign team as a whole was that such a strategy was acceptable, allowing individuals to act accordingly. Neither prospect really offers much in the way of positives, although the existence of a more deep-rooted attack culture is probably the more troubling, as an individual who doesn’t play by the rules, written or unwritten, can be dealt with in isolation.

Now, as I’ve already said, nothing that has happened so far is fundamentally against the rules, and I still defend the right of Team Huhne to apply whatever strategy they believe appropriate to gain victory for their man. However, I do expect both sides to give rather more thought to the impact of their behaviour as far as the outside world is concerned.

Team Clegg seems to be focussed on whinging that it really isn’t fair. The complaint to the Returning Officer belittles the candidate, and begs the question, “What do you expect the outcome of your complaint to be?”. To be blunt, whatever Chris and his campaign team do will be a picnic compared to the massed ranks of Labour and Conservative MPs when our new Leader makes his debut in the House of Commons. My personal advice would be to work on some cutting put-downs – Vince Cable seems to be pretty good at them, and his sense of humour is not exactly legendary.

Team Huhne need to think more about the aftermath than the campaign. If Chris wins, is the campaign strategy likely to generate loyalty amongst the Parliamentary Party? Ian Duncan-Smith won the Conservative leadership having previously been rather less than loyal to his predecessors. Such a stance hardly encouraged Conservative MPs to be devoted to him, and his position was thereafter unstable accordingly. Indeed, if he doesn’t win, have his attempts to undermine Nick damages the latter to the extent that he struggles for credibility, thus undermining the Party itself. With a majority as small as Chris’s, that might yet return to haunt him.

I also wonder what it does for our already tattered reputation as the ‘nicest’ of the three main political parties. I freely admit that when I hear tales of dirty politics from other Liberal Democrats around the country, I wince inside. I’ve always attempted, in those campaigns where my opinion has carried weight, to ‘keep it clean’ because I believe that gutter politics puts off voters and discourages participation. My mother has said in the past that you attract more with honey than with vinegar, and whilst she isn’t political, I often think that our elected representatives could learn from her common sense.

This campaign started as a battle of style and ideas, and has descended into something akin to mud-wrestling. Leave it to the pigs, gentlemen, they’re better at it…


Anonymous said...

So if Chris is isn't going to ask Nick the hard questions he needs to answer before he's anointed as Leader, who is?

Rob Fenwick said...

"The complaint to the Returning Officer belittles the candidate, and begs the question, “What do you expect the outcome of your complaint to be?”."

But there's the thing - it wasn't even to the RO, it was to the chief whip! I'm baffled as to what the tortured logic behind that decision might be.

Anonymous said...

I'm speculating, but I imagine the point of complaint to the Chief Whips is that briefing the press against another Lib Dem MP is such strong terms breaches the stadning orders or something similar of the parliamentary party.

Anonymous said...

matthew huntbach - the problem is that the question Huhne keeps asking is "when did you stop beating your wife".

That kind of question tends to reflect more on the interrogator than the interrogatee.