Can everyone please just play nice? Briefing against other Liberal Democrats and insulting party activists is never going to help.

carmichael and teddy bearWe’ve had some pretty strange and random articles appearing all over the place about who might replace Nick Clegg. The least strange and random was of course this by my co-editor Stephen Tall.

People who know Graeme Littlejohn have generally been laughing their heads off at the notion that he’s been brought in as Danny Alexander’s Head of Office as some Machiavelli who’s going to win him the leadership. That’s been in a couple of papers now and I’m just wondering who on earth is spreading this stuff. Actually, I do have some ideas, but these are better kept to myself for the time being.

Yesterday, it was the turn of Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael to get the Leadership Speculation Treatment, by Thomas Byrne over at the New Statesman.:

Carmichael has managed to avoid falling prey to the left/right divide emerging more clearly in the party as it gets used to power. “He could be a compromise candidate… post-coalition we need someone to hold the party together. Alistair might be the guy,” one Lib Dem told me. As chief whip for the Lib Dems before becoming Scottish Secretary, he will know where the bodies are buried. Not only did this position make building a relationship with all the MPs in the party compulsory, it also meant he commanded their respect. Don’t mess with Carmichael.

Hmm. His style as Chief Whip had more to do with dishing out biscuits rather than waving his wand around as this Total Politics interview shows.

But, you know, as far as the leadership is concerned, yes, he’d be a competent and worthy candidate, but whether he’d stand is another thing. It’s not that long since he was teasing us about leaving politics.

What will be will be, though. A leadership contest is unlikely before at the very least 2015 and maybe not even then. And I’m not going to complain about that.

What I find utterly infuriating is a quote in the article, apparently from “a campaign staffer in the party.” It’s about Tim Farron. And about you and me. And it’s insulting. You might like to sit down, get yourself a cup of tea, a biscuit and some smelling salts before you read it.

“There are a lot of Lib Dems out there who don’t want Tim Farron to be leader. When people say he is popular with the grassroots, they mean popular with the sandal wearers, but he’s not credible as a national political leader. He’s not a statesman.”

Apparently, a member of party staff has been mean about Tim and referred to those many party activists who have a lot of time for him as “sandal wearers.” I can’t honestly think of anyone actually working on proper election campaigns who would ever say such an insulting or dismissive thing. They know that they need every activist motivated and out there, telling the Liberal Democrat story, if we are going to have a hope in hell of achieving our goals this year and next. They would  never insult members of the party who, by and large, have kept on working patiently on the ground.

But, it seems, somebody did give this quote to Byrne. It’s not the first time Tim Farron has been on the receiving end of poison from Liberal Democrats. Vince Cable took a fairly inept pelting too. On the other hand, anonymous briefings against the leader have been relatively few and far between.The only real public complainers, Lembit and Matthew Oakeshott, go on the record and nobody really takes any notice.

I don’t want to over-egg the pudding, because, by and large, members of the party have been pretty civilised, wherever they stand on the Coalition. Compared to Labour’s toxic factionalism and the hatred of Cameron in some areas of the Conservative party, we are a bunch of cuddly teddy bears in comparison. But when the instinct to show our claws takes hold, we really need to quash it. Nobody should be talking about anyone to the media in these terms. Our energy needs to go into winning elections, not fighting petty, internal battles on the pages of the media.

Having a go at political rivals is one thing (but still not good), reinforcing media stereotypes of hard-working activists takes it to a whole new level of horrible. Whoever you are, just stop it. Now.  No good can ever come of it.

Benjamin Franklin is often quoted by liberals in respect of the balance between liberty and security. He also had something wise to say about sticking together:

We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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35 Comments

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 1st Mar '14 - 4:40pm

    Agreed, although actual violence is a little harsh. A weekend way with Lembit or Oakeshott maybe.

  • Fiona White 1st Mar '14 - 4:54pm

    I’m very fond of my sandals in the right place. However, I have found growing the accompanying beard to be a little difficult. Something to do with my gender, I believe. Is this an example of inequality?

    Seriously, though, I find I have enough to do fighting Tories, Labour and other assorted non-Lib Dem types. Shall we just concentrate on that instead.

  • Unfortunately the view from The Westminster Bubble is not as clear as a VIEW FROM HAM COMMON.
    David Laws’ quote perhaps shows a lack of understanding about how the party grew and established itself in constituencies so that Carpet-baggers who were born rich or had made a pile in The City could step into the shoes of popular MPs.
    I am not sure if David Laws is actually a pinstripe-wearing Carpet-bagger in his spare time, but he sounds as if he might be.

  • Yes it’s annoying, but it really can’t be stopped.

    It is terrible for ‘leadership insiders’, ‘sources close to clegg’, ‘government source’ etc, to say these things, but the quote you mention is from a “a campaign staffer in the party.” That can literally mean anybody working for the party, including a random organiser in some random seat. People are always going to be willing to speak out and slag people off and journalists are always going to pretend their source is more important than they are. Annoying, but can’t see how we can get round that. Ignoring them would be a good start. Afterall, more people probably visit this site than Total Politics! 🙂

    PS: Interesting and good observation made by Richard Morris.

  • David Allen 1st Mar '14 - 6:34pm

    “Compared to Labour’s toxic factionalism and the hatred of Cameron in some areas of the Conservative party, we are a bunch of cuddly teddy bears in comparison.”

    Hmm. An alternative view would be that honest disagreement over political direction is treated as normal in the two big parties, but unhealthily suppressed in the Lib Dems. We used to revel in the openness of our internal debates, but we don’t any more.

    It’s easy to pick on the name-callers, dismiss their activities as insulting, and then make a quantum jump of logic into inferring that we should just get on “out there, telling the Liberal Democrat story, if we are going to have a hope in hell” – and stop worrying about what might be wrong with the Liberal Democrat story.

    When our party folds, will the epitaph be “We didn’t rock the boat”?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 1st Mar '14 - 6:38pm

    David, it’s not about standing up for what we feel the party should be doing. Anything Stephen Tall or I have written on immigration, or secret courts or welfare should tell you that on policy, we express our concerns or otherwise about direction. However, the stuff about Vince, Tim and activists is unpleasant and personal and is completely unnecessary.

  • must find my “Proud to be an Activist Badge” it is somewhere, not needed it for while

  • Tony Dawson 1st Mar '14 - 7:12pm

    @Caron Lindsay :

    ” the stuff about Vince, Tim and activists is unpleasant and personal and is completely unnecessary”

    As, more importantly, in my opinion, is discussing this matter here.

  • Paul Pettinger 1st Mar '14 - 7:23pm

    The Party leadership (which you readily defend) has abused its enhanced position in Government to try and re-brand the Party in its image and smuggle through a wave of policies that it knew the left of the Party and many Lib Dem voters wouldn’t stomach (Free Schools, NHS marketisation, signing up to Conservative economic policy ect). Numerous loyalists have also been appointed under Clegg’s leadership (to Ministerial posts, the Lords and Party HQ), so that these comments were offered will seem plausible to many. I have met some incredibly inspiring and wonderful people through the Party, but it isn’t always a particularly nice place . Why is abuse of power and trust so different to bitchy media briefings?

  • Grace Goodlad 1st Mar '14 - 7:53pm

    I have no problem with arguments over policy but playground name calling is hardly constructive. I am of the sandal-wearing, animal welfare, save the planet and land taxation and a copy of the Liberator songbook in my bag as I trudge streets class of lib dem and proud. We are meant to be an egalitarian party but sadly some “staffer”, an epithet I could also technically invoke, gets a sense of superiority from being rude about activists. If you work for the party and don’t consider yourself to be adding to the campaign for a more Liberal and Democratic society I suggest you start looking for another job, as you are in the wrong one. We should pity this poor “staffer” they obviously don’t enjoy their work.

  • maybe a little less Cuddly Teddy Bears and more Chuckie the Demon Doll might be appropriate…

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/61/ChuckyDoll.jpg

    We are long overdue for a Brutus to appear and lure Caesar to the Forum (though he really met his demise in the Portico of Pompey)… the Daily Mail is not wrong is perceiving that Vince Cable and Mathew Oakshott indulging in some apres-ski is less than innocent.. The coup will not be late 2015 but rather late May 2014 when the dull hammering in the night will be the assembling of the scaffold for the guillotine that shall decapitate 30 of our MPs if they don’t awake from their lethargy.

    Sauve qui peut!

  • If we do not get on and sort things out we are doomed anyway. Deckchairs and Titanic spring to mind. In some respects it does not matter who is to blame, it is a bit late to be expending effort pointing fingers, we have all been part of the developing collision with the giant iceberg. If we end up with only two or three MEPs in May, then I expect there will be some eruptions. An earlier article about Eastleigh mentioned, or the comments did that Nick Clegg was saved by the result. There is a feeling of fragility.

  • @Caron Lindsay “A leadership contest is unlikely before at the very least 2015 and maybe not even then”.

    I’m not so sure Caron. The 2014 United Kingdom local elections are scheduled to be held on 22 May 2014 as are the European elections. I am sure you will be proved right as long as we do well. But if there is a disaster for us (as some think likely), then all bets are off IMHO.

  • As a suit-wearing Farronite I will repeat what I said in response to the apres-Nick article:

    I think Nick deserves the chance to lead us into this year’s EU and local elections without further speculation: things might go better than we’re expecting. Then let’s see.

  • Ian Hurdley 2nd Mar '14 - 7:54am

    It sounds as if Face Book culture is on the march off-internet. Sadly, far too many FB comments seem to be predicated on the assertion that “I can say what I want, when and where I want, to whomever I want, irrespective of the truth or falsity of my bald assertions, and you can’t stop me because that’s my human right to freedom of speech” (all expletives deleted).

  • Well-said Caron. I have never met a “sandal wearer” in the party, are they a dead (or dying) breed. As for inept pelting , I can publicly state that I am a huge fan of both Tim Farron and Vince Cable. I for one would be happy with either as leader, but age must be a factor weighing against Vince,

  • Paul In Twickenham 2nd Mar '14 - 9:04am

    “Popular with sandal wearers”… As they say in football, “get your retaliation in first”. Sounds like Lib Dem Towers are trying to denigrate the likely candidates for a post-May leadership challenge rather than bad-mouthing the rank-and-file (most of whom wouldn’t identify with the sandal-wearing stereotype). Reading between the lines do we take this as a frank assessment of the expectations for May?

  • Paul in Twickenham,
    Yes, it seems that even at the top of the party they have started to recognise the implications of a leader with a 58% MINUS popularity rating who has brought his party down month after month to poll ratings of between 6% and 9%.

  • Ha Ha! Who is the writer trying to kid. Alistair Carmichael has managed to avoid falling prey to the left/right divide? This is the guy who suspended the whip from an elected MP because he dared speak out against Israel. He certainly won’t be getting the support of many of those who want an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

  • Jack McKenna 2nd Mar '14 - 11:41am

    To be fair that’s a nice way to divide the party, instead of social and classical liberals. We could be classed as orange bookers and sandal wearers.

  • I have just found a quote in today’s Observer which might be relevant. Can you guess who said this ? —

    “Let me finally say to those elements inside the party who seek to edge us out, or to the grandees who snipe from the side-lines, this is our party and we are going nowhere.”

    I do not think he was wearing sandals.

  • Anthony Hawkes 2nd Mar '14 - 12:47pm

    After reading all the above, I think I need to buy some sandals. Can anyone recommend a suitable brand?

  • Simon Banks 2nd Mar '14 - 9:12pm

    The only Liberal or Liberal Democrat connected person I can remember wearing sandals other than in and adjacent to their own house was a toga-wearing gentleman who appeared to have mental health issues and who was ejected from the Dundee Liberal Assembly for repeated heckling. But perhaps wearing sandals in your garden on a hot summer day is enough to mark you as unrealistic and unstatesmanlike?

    Worse, I can hardly think of anything more quintessentially illiberal than judging the worth of people’s opinions on the basis of their dress or hairstyle choices. Behind many things claimed to be said in jest lie nasty, mean little thoughts.

    Whether Tim Farron is a statesman (or will be one) I don’t know, but I suspect in some people lurks the illogical and unhistorical idea that if you’re passionate and can inspire activists, you’re obviously not statesmanlike.

  • Galen Milne 2nd Mar '14 - 10:36pm

    One minute we have unknown subterfuge then we find Mr Carmichael might be a future leader. I suppose that’s possible if the doomdaysayers have their way about the party’s fortunes at the next election, however if insults are a norm from “within” then I wonder what the likes of Malcolm Bruce and Ming Campbell have to say after over 30years devotion to Party and Country – is Alistair dealing wanting to slag them off for sticking with it whilst he contemplates his “next career choices”.

  • Blimey there are some sensitive souls on here aren’t there! I have read and re-read the offending paragraph and I can’t get excited about it even if it was supposedly said by a fellow Liberal Democrat. It definitely isn’t “smelling salts” stuff. I’m afraid whether it’s the school playground, one’s social circle, your workplace, inside the family, a Lib Dem council group or the party generally at some point someone you know is going to be ‘mean’ to you. That’s normal life let alone political life!

    Lib Dems and Liberals before them will always be ridiculed as sandal wearers in the same way as Tories are referred to as ‘toffs’. Surely we have bigger things to be concerned about? As regards the leadership I think Nick Clegg is the best of the three main party leaders, he’s able, a good public performer and given all the rubbish that’s been chucked at him, not least on LibDemVoice, he’s still happy to get up every morning and carry on with the job.

  • Anthony Hawke – I have some ECCO one’s that have done me 10 years+. I only wear them on the Costa Blanca, though…

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Mar '14 - 7:51pm

    “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all …”

    I have not posted anything in LibDem Voice for a long time …

    Now, a very common response of Clegg fans to anything less than adulation of our Dear Leader is to pose the question “So, who would you replace him by?”, and if one does not name a name, then “So, you can’t name anyone, that means Clegg’s the best person to lead the party, you are admitting there is no-one else who could do the job”.

    As Caron is noting here, there are very good reason for not naming possible alternatives even if one has some in mind. Once again, it seems the left of the party is acting sensibly by keeping its mouth shut, the right is happy to use tactics that damage the party by stirring up infighting if they think that will advance their cause in the party.

  • paul barker 4th Mar '14 - 4:45pm

    I am currently reading “22 Days” & Im pretty sure the remark about sandal wearers was a joke. I havent seen any evidence of campaigns against Farron or Cable. The sniping against Clegg is however fairly constant & doesnt help anyone except our enemies.

  • A clear insight from Matthew Huntbach with his comment that — “. ..it seems the left of the party is acting sensibly by keeping its mouth shut, the right is happy to use tactics that damage the party by stirring up infighting if they think that will advance their cause in the party.”

  • when I was a kid we used to call sandals Jesus wellies and suede boots were desert wellies.

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