Opinion: Calamity, Conspiracy & Clegg

I can claim to have encouraged Chris Huhne to stand for the leadership when Charles Kennedy stepped down, while simultaneously believing and saying for some time that Nick Clegg will be/should be the next party leader.

I can also claim to have opposed both of them over the anodyne and partly mistaken views of the Huhne Commission – remember when PFI was thought to be a good idea?

In backing Nick I have had my credentials as a definitely left-of-centre Liberal questioned by a few parliamentary and non-parliamentary colleagues – along the lines of, “Dont you realise he is a Trojan horse for Orange Book/Centre Forum takeover.” And it is that conspiracy theorist paranoia that has fuelled the ‘Calamity Clegg’ piece.

I console myself not only with the recognition that the party, not the party leader, decides policy, but also in the knowledge that Nick as a good Liberal will stand an argument. The balance of argument is tipping very decisively against the further marketisation of public services, and it is the very strength of those arguments which will over-power those very few hell-bent on making the party a Tory clone.

There is a battle of ideas ahead, but it is only those on both sides unsure of their argument and wedded to conspiracy who need fear a rational, intelligent, receptive leader. Never fear Trojan horses bearing the right gifts.

* John Pugh is Lib Dem MP for Southport.

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16 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Nov '07 - 11:24am

    No, it is not conspiracy theory that has fuelled the ‘Calamity Clegg’ piece, it is the stand Clegg himself has take in the set piece speeches he has made since the leadership contest opened.

    He has dropped hints about wanting to shake the party up, particularly with his comments about moving it out of its “comfort zone”, but when it comes to actually telling us what he means by this, he has said nothing. His speeches are full of platitudinous waffle, which just hasn’t backed up the continuous claim from his supporters that he’s someone incisive who will be able to open up new avenues of support for the party.

    It is, in a sense, a measure of the respect we who oppose Nick have for him as a person (or at least for the person he has been presented as by his most enthusiastic backers – outside the party as well as in), that we suppose there must be more to him that what has met us so far in the leadership election, and that therefore there must be stuff he’s hiding until he gets in.

    If it really is true that he has accepted the “balance of argument is tipping very decisively against the further marketisation of public services”, then many of his strongest supporters now look very, very foolish – since they have been slagging off the Huhne campaign from the start for being too “statist” and conventional and offering no radical break from the “social democratic ” consensus.

    John, I see what you say as an admission of defeat for the Clegg camp. They are not offering anything radically different from Huhne, and it’s they who should be apologising for all their slagging off of Huhne who has quite rightly from the start accepted what you now say Clegg has accepted – that further marketisation is not the way to go.

  • Its odd that Pugh claims to have encouraged Chris to stand in 2005 when he is clearly identified here as a supporter of Ming http://www.mingcampbell.org.uk/ccarchive/list-of-supporters/

    Does anyone agree that it is perverse logic to back one man when secretly wanting another?

  • Daniel Bowen 19th Nov '07 - 12:25pm

    For someone who is I think a Director of Logic, strange indeed!

  • Daniel Bowen 19th Nov '07 - 12:26pm

    3 – or Doctor even.

  • Odd that someone who hangs the label of “conspiracy theorist paranoia” on anyone who disagrees with his narrative should confess to giving simultaneous support and encouragement to three rival candidates for the party leadership. Machiavelli himself would have had problems with that one!

  • 6 Tristan – I agree with you in so far that we need to have a serious debate about this. We need to look at how these things work in different countries and what the key factors are.

    Huhne has done this, and has come to some conclusions.

    My beef with Clegg is that though he has clearly looked at these issues he doesn’t seem willing to tell us his conclusions.

    I would like to see him just SAY SOMETHING!

  • Dr Pugh so good of you to join us today. You seem to have missed out on commenting on an earlier thread in late October on which your Liberal credentials were impuned. I do hope you can set the record straight on your comments on what consenting adults in Southport can do before I judge the leader candidate you endorse by the seemingly illiberal company he seems to be keeping.

  • Peter Welch 19th Nov '07 - 7:56pm

    8 Would you include transport PFIs in that, Mat? Would you rule out a PFI to build a high speed rail link from London to Scotland (or Yorkshire to Devon)?

    I certainly have problems with the way that PFIs have operated in the Health Service (for example) but is that a reason to reject them absolutely and everywhere?

  • Geoffrey Payne 20th Nov '07 - 7:45am

    Although I am encouraged by John where he says “The balance of argument is tipping very decisively against the further marketisation of public services” and that many of his colleagues seem to think the same, I think the response from Matthew is spot on, and argues the contrary case far better.
    Ironic how Nick Clegg can tell us that we should move outside of our comfort zone, yet when he is asked in what way, then suddenly he finds himself outside of HIS comfort zone.

  • Geoffrey Payne 20th Nov '07 - 8:02am

    Actually I have just read a blog that “Going outside our comfort zone” relates to him taking a stand on immigration policy. Which outside of the party IS very controversial. I think the next question is to find out the scope of what he means, does he have other policies in mind as well?

  • Nick is tv material and Chris not. Sunday did prove that Chris is nothing more than an unguided, inward facing nuclear weapon. I think we may well find Huhne looking for an alternative career shortly as if his association could do it, deselection is sensible. To humiliate your own colleague to win an argument is foolish and highlights your own insecurity achieving nothing.

  • “Nick is TV material”
    Is he Eddie? We are told it so often but I have to say I haven’t seen much evidence of it yet.

    This argument sometimes smacks of a quick fix for those who want to panic the membership.

    I look at alot of blogs and I some of the comments here are echoed elsewhere. Labour bloggers don’t even seem to even slightly threatened by his “media skills” and after an initial panic at the start of the contest, the Tories seem to have calmed down – alot.

  • bill haymes 23rd Nov '07 - 1:46am

    As one of the most likeable politicians i enjoy listening to John but what he appears to be advocating is that he disagrees with the candidate hes supporting on several fundamental issues but thinks he can talk him round ……it would seem to me far more sensible to support the candidate who is singing from the same hymnsheet. If this party is going to pull itself out of a deep trough and going to attract the millions it needs to eventually get to a winning place, it cant afford to waste more time and opportunity with internal arguments but has to come out united and focussed towards the radical vision upon which it was founded. One hesitates to use the word navelgazing. My overriding impression is that very few members really have got it that informed outside analysis expects our future to be all downhill , the case even several years ago when after the election the New Statesman published an article ” As good as it gets for the Lib Dems?”

    We need to set aside the internal wrangling and boldly promote ourselves as a radical opposition which rejects the soggy centre and useless economic dogmae which are incapable of responding to the challenges of Sir Nicholas Stern.

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