Opinion: Losing at the Bridge Table

Losing at the Bridge Table

Politics is like tournament bridge. It’s not the quality of the cards you are dealt that matters. It’s how well you play the hand.

Cameron was dealt a rotten hand over expenses. His party is a bunch of upper class rotters milking the public purse. Cameron turned this to his own advantage. He summoned the rotters to his study and gave them all a good caning. He also effectively saw off the reform agenda in a cloud of grandiloquent promises. These amounted to a cast-iron commitment to think hard about fixed term parliaments and then quietly ditch the idea.

Labour were dealt a poor hand. But that in itself was not the cause of their undoing. It was the way they played. They fought each other to a standstill. They demonstrated no interest in governing the country or maintaining a shred of dignity. The public verdict was totally predictable.

The Lib Dems were dealt by far the best hand. We had relatively little sleaze to confess. We were relative outsiders. We had a tradition of discontent with the parliamentary status quo. We should have topped the poll this weekend. We blew it by mishandling the cards.

Alone amongst the parties, we made very little public show of contrition. We failed to tackle our very few rotten apples. Our lesser sinners made quiet, embarrassed repayments where they should have made loud apology and expiation.

The public demanded repentance. We gave them bombast.

The public wanted reforms to put a stop to the fiddling. We offered, first and foremost, reforms that would give us a partisan advantage. We were lucky to get away with nothing much worse than ignoral.

Late in the day, Clegg woke up and made his first strong call – to keep Parliament at work all summer until the problem was solved. It was the first sign of an ability to look beyond the Westminster hothouse and see what the public see. It was too little too late.

How were we so badly distracted by the froth of debate about electoral reform? Why did we not see that until we can first look Joe Public in the eye without shame, we cannot possibly preach the virtues of a change in the voting system?

* David Allen was until recently chairman of Rushcliffe Liberal Democrats, and has been a member of the party for 27 years.

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  • James Jones 8th Jun '09 - 1:49pm

    I understand that the expenses scandal was effective at driving voters away from parties. I’m not convinced, however, that it could have been used to attract new voters to an established party. My bet is that most people put a pox on all our houses, and decided to mix their frustration at the economic climate with disgust at the political establishment by either not voting, or voting for a fringe party.

  • James Jones:-

    That view doesn’t fit with the stats of Labour wipeout, Tory stagnation and Lib Dems slipping.

    As the least mainstream of the big 3, with few scandals and the best history on campaigning for reform Lib Dems really should have done better than the Tories. They did not, how do you explain this?

  • Liberal Eye 8th Jun '09 - 2:03pm


    I rather thought that Lib Dems HAD been campaigning for greater openness generally including over expenses.

    It raises the question of why, albeit that there were some minor infractions, more was not made of the Party’s track record on this.

    It also rather raises the question of why campaigning for openness wasn’t followed through. This might have been done in many ways; for example an obvious plan would be to have asked all our MPs to post their expenses online and take questions on them at their constituency AGM leaving nothing for the Telegraph.

  • This is appalling nonsense and weak stuff even by comparison with your previous 247 attempts to tell us all that you don’t much like Nick Clegg. Do you have anything else to say?

    I don’t think there was a huge and immediate Euro dividend to be had from the expenses scandal – Clegg has positioned us quite shrewdly to gain in the long term as the story moves on to reform.

    It’s simply not true that Clegg did little or nothing before his 100 days thing. As well as saying various things as the story developed, he called for the Speaker to go – again, I hear you say this will not win us 500,000 extra votes overnight. But what would? It placed us very prominently at the forefront of a story, helping to make something happen that needed to happen.

    You are not alone in implying that we should have offered up a blood sacrifice in the court of public opinion for the good of the party, in a comparably arbitrary way to the one used by Brown and Cameron to ditch a few incovenient MPs. It is bizarre to think that would have won us any extra votes – it didn’t exactly work for them!

    But it is more troubling that what you propose doing is so illiberal. How can we be better than Blair and Cameron if we don’t even have the guts to stick to our principles in the governance of our own party?

  • As I have pointed out already in another thread, the expenses scandal had little impact on the local elections.

    In Gosport (Sir Peter Viggers), the Tories actually gained two divisions.

    In Bromsgrove (Julie Kirkbride) the Tories swept the board.

    Anyone old enough to remember the repulsive John Cordle MP, the self-styled “hanger and flogger” who was forced to resign on account of his corrupt relationship with John Poulson? At the ensuing Bournemouth West byelection, the Tory vote went up in percentage terms.

    The expenses thing will hurt the reputation of Parliament and make it more difficult for MPs to challenge elites (the reason why the Barclay brothers were told by their Washington puppet-masters to run with the story in the first place), but it is unlikely to hurt any individual political party significantly.

  • “Politics is like tournament bridge. It’s not the quality of the cards you are dealt that matters. It’s how well you play the hand.”

    Surely in Bridge at least part of the key is in bidding for the contract – in political terms setting the expectations. Did we make 3 Hearts or 6NT

    Maybe we’ve tortured this metaphor enough 🙂

  • “At the ensuing Bournemouth West byelection, the Tory vote went up in percentage terms.”

    The sins of the father rarely affect the son when it comes to by-elections

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Jun '09 - 2:51pm

    I don’t like conspiracy theories, but if the MPs expenses scandal wasn’t put into play deliberately to take out mind off hugely greater living in luxury at others’ expense by the City boys, it certainly worked well to do so.

    The public perception of this seems to be that all MPs are in it, and they are hardly bothered to distinguish one from another. We LibDems can congratulate ourselves that we are now seen as fully part of the system, any idea that we might be some anti-establishment opposition to mainstream politics has been lost. Isn’t this what we wanted in order not to look like amateurs?

    Of course Labour voters are going to be more upset by it than Tories, it’s as Joe says, but not just on tax avoidance. E.g. the amount Sir Ming spent of decorating his flat to many Tory voters would seem absolutely normal, what’s the fuss? And, whisper it, I’m no moneybags, but so it seemed to me – nice living, but not hugely extravagant. But if you’re living on benefits, it’s a hugely incomprehensible amount of money.

    Most people have little idea once sums of money go beyond a certain amount. I’ve had many conversations with people where cutting councillors’/MPs’ allowances is put forward as if that were a serious solution to the point “because the council/government doesn’t have the money to pay for it”.

  • with you on all your points Matthew

    I still think we should have seen this coming – since Norman Baker started this campaign for openness. LD HQ and nick should have made sure we were completely clean.
    Because there is no such thing with the voters as fairly clean.

  • I’m afraid that your observation on Nick Clegg and the Westminster bubble strikes a chord. We need our leaders to be less establishment and more ‘populist’ [in the best sense of that term].

    I was just comparing some of the Euro leaflets that are still hanging around here, and it strikes me that we are “off the pace” with our literature … a sad state of affairs for the ‘Kings of Focus’.

    So who said :

    a) “spend 5 minutes voting … get 5 years of hard work from xxx”

    b) “Why we’re voting xxx ” followed by snappy vox-pops

    c) “I’m proud of the work I do”

    d) “xxx are working with our European neighbours to boost trade” etc. etc.

    There was a time a) and b) would have been Lib Dem; c) a pompous Tory; and d) a ‘tractor statistics’ Brownite Labour BUT ….. this time?

  • David Allen 10th Jun '09 - 8:17pm

    Thanks for all the responses.

    To Gavin S: OK, I don’t suppose I’ll ever be Clegg’s greatest fan. But I certainly don’t blame him alone for our party’s disengagement from popular opinion. If anything he is less at fault than most of his colleagues.

    “What you propose doing is so illiberal”

    You might have done better to say “badly defined”. I’m not arguing for wholesale slaughter of the scapegoats. Just a thorough and public examination of our own faults, large or tiddling, and proper action in response to that.

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