The Liberal Democrats’ spell in government has been characterised by very little hostility and disunity on a personal level. Whatever arguments there may have been behind the scenes have not spilled over into the pages of the press very often. That’s actually quite remarkable given the pressure we are under as a party. Sure, we’ve had our disagreements on policy, with more to come, but we’ve kept it civil.
Politicians have been secretly briefing the press about what goes on behind the scenes as long as there has been politics. I remember being shocked when, as a very young and naive political activist, I overheard a very senior figure doing just that. This stuff fills newspaper columns, but when it gets personal, and toxic, it becomes a massive problem.
There have been two recent examples of unpleasant, personal unattributed attacks, and both have come from the establishment side of the party. First of all, we saw the clumsy, inept and inaccurate hatchet job done on Vince which apparently sparked an enquiry in leader’s office. Now, the Independent tells us, “one figure very high up in the party” has crossed a big line with a pretty vicious personal attack on Tim Farron:
Which bit of the sanctimonious, god-bothering, treacherous little shit is there not to like?
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown spent years doing that sort of stuff about each other. So did John Major’s “bastards”. That ended well, didn’t it?
This sort of stuff undermines the efforts Nick has made in terms of his relationship with the party in recent months. He’s put loads of time and effort into it, from phoning and writing to activists and members to thank them for their efforts to putting in lots of appearances around the country (and the Conference fringe) and chatting to members in a relaxed, friendly and funny way. When people within the leadership bubble attack those who are very popular within the party, it really doesn’t help. He needs to tell them to wind their necks in, and fast.
Tim Farron has taken his role as President extremely seriously. The President is supposed to be the grassroots’ Ambassador to the Leadership and he’s performed that role extremely well. I can’t think of another politician who engages so well with their party members. As a member of the Federal Executive, I’ve seen how effectively he works and how prepared he is to listen to people. He has also, on things like nuclear power and the economy, helped the leadership get stuff through Conference, so it’s not like they never get anything out of him. As well as that, he’s a superb and pithy media performer who’s fought Nick Clegg’s corner in many a television studio.
To have this come out on an important weekend for Nick Clegg is highly unhelpful. Nick’s on the Andrew Marr show tomorrow where I am led to believe he’s going to have something new and interesting to say. That’s where the focus needs to be, not on someone associated with him having a go at a popular figure.
They didn’t learn after the Vince debacle. Let’s hope that this is the last we see of this type of briefing. When this party pulls together, we are magnificent, as we saw in Eastleigh. That’s how we need to be all the way through to 2015.
Another couple of quick points from the Independent piece. They mention that Tim has been denied ministerial office. As party president, it would have been completely inappropriate for him to have been a minister at the same time, so that’s a deliberate thing.
There’s also his description of party activists:
Your average activist is an environmental, social liberal. If anything, the people who have stayed with the party are hard core: and you know what hard-core liberal democrats are like.
So much better than cockroaches, don’t you think?
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings