Nick Clegg’s second letter to members and supporters has hit my inbox… This week’s email focuses on two issues. First, the impending Leveson Report into what form of media (self-)regulation will be needed to ensure newspapers don’t continue to abuse their power in the way that was exposed so forensically during Sir Brian’s inquiry. And secondly, on re-inforcing the Lib Dems’ number one achievement from the Coalition: raising the income tax threshold so that millions of the lowest paid in society have more money in their pockets.
It’s only been one week and this email already has the distinction of being mentioned at Prime Minister’s Questions.
With the PM abroad I was standing in on Wednesday and sure enough, Harriet Harman quoted my words about the crippling cost of childcare back at me. Who knew she had signed up as a supporter of the Liberal Democrats?
While I have a regular Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions session in Parliament the preparation required for PMQs is a bit greater. This is because Harriet Harman gets six questions not two; there is more time on topical issues than at DPMQs; and, of course more people are watching.
Luckily you get some help in preparing for the bear pit. Downing Street provides a briefing team who bring huge experience, patient good humour, encyclopaedic knowledge of every policy and a depressingly large number of briefing documents to be read and memorised.
They are joined by my team, including my PPS Duncan Hames, as we predict questions, come up with jokes and so on. It can be a time consuming process, and it’s easy to see why Tony Blair felt it made sense to shift the two sessions a week Prime Minister’s used to have to face into one, longer, appearance.
The event itself is intense, but fun. I know people watching on TV go cold at the sight of MPs shouting, but it’s only when you visit parliament and see it in full cry that you appreciate the noise made as MPs attempt to make their point. What looks like aggressive shouting on TV is often a genuine attempt to simply be heard.
The first was my exchange with Harriet Harman over the Leveson Report. We don’t yet know what Lord Justice Leveson will say, but to me it’s blindingly obvious that if he recommends something workable and proportionate we must seek to implement it.
Of course whatever he says will provoke controversy. And there’s a difficult balance to strike to make sure that ordinary people are treated fairly by the media while our press remains free, raucous and independent. But I believe we can strike that balance and get agreement across the political parties.
We need to be able to look the parents of Milly Dowler in the eye, and other victims who have had their privacy trampled on, and assure them that in the future there will be a permanently independent system of recourse, sanction and accountability able to act when things go wrong.
Secondly I took the opportunity to once again remind people of our major achievement in cutting income tax for ordinary people. By April next year 24 million people will have received a £550 tax cut thanks to us – we must make sure everyone in Britain knows about this great Liberal Democrat policy.
A number of you got in touch about last week’s email with many positive comments. Some had suggestions about childcare, others wrote about what they wanted me to cover in future messages. If there’s something you want me to talk about do get in touch here.
Last week, I suggested a few format improvements to make the letter more readable, and it’s good to see these being followed up. Running through my list:
1) Break up the text. DONE through the use of a photo and hyperlinks. (Though I still prefer sub-headings to signpost key points clearly.)
2) Links to stories and campaigns the party is running. DONE through a link to the party’s Fairer Tax campaign.
3) Some form of call to action. DONE (see above).
5) More encouragement for people to engage directly. DONE (ish) with a hyperlink to reply direct to the Leader’s letter. I still think can be more open, less conditional: ‘Please do get in touch’ rather than ‘If you want to’.
* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from May 2007 to Jan 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.