Tim Farron MP writes…Tales from the Spin Room

Clegg Speech 40Last night I was in the spin room doing my job as President, walking around and saying Nick had won.  It wasn’t hard to appear convincing, because he was brilliant. It was certainly easier than when I have to speak to the media after some by-elections!

I thought Nick won last night on both style and substance. Though of course as a Lib Dem, I would say that.  As a party we like facts and evidence. Watching last night, those things were very light on the UKIP side of the debate. Then again, what else did we expect?

The spin room is usually very busy and a bit chaotic on nights like that, but it’s always a polite, ordered affair. Each person bats for their own team and claims victory for their leader.

However last night one thing really angered me.  It was when Nigel Farage made that awful statement that the EU ‘has blood on its hands’ in the Ukraine.  He seemed to be reading the Kremlin’s ‘talking points’. I personally could not believe that his hatred of the EU is so deep and so myopic that he was prepared to side with Vladimir Putin against the people of Ukraine.

I cannot understand that mind-set.  I cannot understand how you can side with Putin because you hate the EU so much.  It wasn’t just a crass throw away remark, it was offensive to the thousands of protesters (as well as the families of the 100 murdered protesters) who stood up for values that we should share and support.

Paddy said Mr Farage had shown “inexperience” in world affairs and he’s right. But isn’t that deeply concerning for a party leader and MEP of 15 years standing? I compare him to our MEPs – Catherine Bearder, Edward Macmillan-Scott, Sharon Bowles. There is no comparison. They are people of substance. Nigel Farage is not.

I know that in the next debate Nick will win again. Not just because the arguments are on our side, but because when the public hear our arguments, put forward by a brave politician making the case that so many others are too timid to make, they will be won over.

Britain is better in, than out.  Britain is stronger in the world within the EU. That’s why I agree with Nick.>

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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  • Nick Collins 27th Mar '14 - 8:09pm

    Tim, were you one of the members of Team Clegg who, according to press reporters, were “visibly disappointed” when the results of the YouGov poll came in? Did you not see that coming?

  • @Nick Collins
    “Did you not see that coming?”

    It was predictable because there were people like you who were never going to say Clegg won the debate because of their ingrained prejudice.

    However, I don’t agree with Tim. It was a tie, and Nick Clegg dodged many tough questions, which is one reason why the general public doesn’t agree with you.

    Next time, he should work harder to actually answer the questions, not just come up with pre-packaged statements like last night.

  • Supporters of Russia’s invasion of the Crimea: Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and UKIP.
    Or to put it another way, Nigel Farage stands with Assad, Castro, Kim Jong-un, Lukashenko, Maduro, Mugabe, Ortega, and Putin.

  • Matt (Bristol) 27th Mar '14 - 11:46pm

    I hope the LibDem spin-machine is not going to grab hold of the Farage Ukraine comment and chew it to pieces so quickly it turns into self-parody and the point is lost on the public…

    Farage’s comment was excessively phrased and makes you extremely worried about the hypothetical scenario of him having any role in any coalition government in the future should his party be able to ever break through into Parliament.

    BUT, I do know people who agree with him and they are exactly the people the pollsters say are the classic UKIP voters; middle aged and older men who distrust what they see as the smugness and spin of the ruling classes; the kind of people who like to harp on about the supposed restraints put on us by modern health and safety culture; Farage is (maybes consciously, maybe by just being himself) just reinforcing his persona as the man who says what others find unthinkable; it’s diplomatic idiocy, but, alas, perfectly workable electoral rhetoric for the people he is trying to reach. He is the modern Randolph Churchill (compare with ‘Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right’ … ugh).

    The LibDems need to point out the dangerous implications of what Farage is saying, but if there is too much shocked pointing going on, it’s counter productive. Nick Clegg needs to be asking how he can use the debate do the same thing as Farage is doing; map out his and the party’s core nature in a way that connects with what something of people are actually thinking and doing in their lives; I like a lot of what he said last night, but I didn’t think any of his statistics achieved that goal.

  • Little Jackie Paper 28th Mar '14 - 12:05am

    David-1 – Thing is though that really is not the point. I have to admit that I didn’t watch the debate, but looking at the coverage I think that Farage was getting at two points. First, Putin, for good or for ill has done something that is without doubt viewed as absolutely in the interests of the people who elected him without caring about what anyone else outside Russia thinks. The frustration that UKIP tap into is the sense that the UK government (of all parties) is, ‘there,’ for the EU/NATO/the US/Global corporates etc before they are for the man on the street. Whatever value judgment you might make on Russian intervention in Crimea it was a Russia first thing on just about every level. That is the sort of thing I suspect that Farage was trying to invoke, not support for Putin per se.

    Secondly, stark truth is that the EU has not exactly covered itself in glory on Ukraine, and to pretend otherwise helps no one. The EU has been shown up for what it is – one big recession-hit consumer base with not much else to offer. The EU can do good stuff, but the offer to become the latest part of the EU periphery is one that may very well not appeal. And the EU has not much else to offer.

    This I think is where Farron misjudges Farage. No, Farage might not be a man of substance – but by invoking Putin-style Country First populism he is suggesting at substance. On Crimea, Putin has put country above supranational politics, what I think about that is beside the point, it is the precise substance Farage wanted to project and associate with.

    Farage has only one message really – the others work for the supranational and the corporate, he is for the people that elected him. His agenda is secondary really.

    Whether sticking it to the supranational man is good, or even possible is the real issue. But Putin has rather stuck it to the man.

  • Paul Pettinger 28th Mar '14 - 12:10am

    As the YouGov President notes (http://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/03/27/farage-wins-debate-clegg/), Nigel Farage won the debate and got a much bigger boost to his personal popularity than Nick Clegg.

    If Clegg’s telekinetic ability was supposed to a joker up his sleeve and we can’t fault the logic of his arguments, yet he can no longer win a TV debate, while the Tories are being rewarded for the economy, what hope is there under his leadership? When are people supposed to start changing their mind, and at what point should we conclude that voters probably aren’t going to start doing so?

  • Little Jackie Paper 28th Mar '14 - 12:23am

    Paul Pettinger – This is the risk. That like the AV referendum it becomes an exercise in selling something that the voters don’t want. The real question is what a renegotiated deal (if it can be achieved) looks like.

    I suspect that the defining issue in any referendum (maybe even this year’s euro elections) will be open borders. For this reason I imagine that SSM isn’t going to come to anyone’s rescue here.

  • jedibeeftrix 28th Mar '14 - 7:28am

    “The Lib Dems had a very sensible policy the EU needed reform much as the same way the UK needed reform”

    What reform, and to achieve what end?

    Sorry, cleggs party of in is watery ill- defined blather.

  • David Evans 28th Mar '14 - 7:43am

    I think Nick has, like a drowning man, been prepared to cling to any piece of floating wreckage going past. On this he has chosen to throw away the party’s position that the EU needed reform for a position that will only be interpreted as EU whatever it does. This continues his chosen path of pursuing a series of issues that thrill a few “true believers” who will bond ever more tightly to him, while alienating ever more of those in his rump of a party that remain. I don’t see our overall popularity increasing as a result of this latest escapade, the question is whether we could fall below the 8% floor we have been bumping along for so long now. The only saving grace may be, that by bigging up Nigel, the Conservative vote may fall, giving a few MPs a better chance of survival in 2015.

  • Tony Dawson 28th Mar '14 - 8:06am

    Any debate is just a ‘one-off’ photo-snap of two people’s take on the issues. But it does not affect the fundamental issues.

    In the 2010 Leadership debates, there was a fairly common consensus that Nick Clegg ‘wowed’ the audience with No1 (helped a lot by both his opponents), disappointed with No2 and regained a lot of ground in No 3.

    This performance contained a significant amount of tractor stats of variable quality but wowed nobody. The agenda for reform of the EU was not pushed, without which many Lib Dems would question our continuing membership. It was, frankly, too ‘pat’. But there is still all to play for. A little passion would not go amiss.

  • “Reform” is a weasel word that is used to mean anything anyone wants it to mean or not mean.

    The point is surely that the EU has to constantly adapt: there will be change in the EU and influencing this change is better achieved when in the driving seat. Camerron wants to be on the back seat, but Farage says it would be better to be in a trailer, where you can try to pretend you are not being pulled along at all.

  • Bill Le Breton 28th Mar '14 - 8:41am

    The decision to challenge Farage without any prospect of Labour or Tory participation was fundamentally at odds with Clegg’s strategy of offering a centrist position to the British people. There is no central position in a two person debate.

    This leaves us open to the accusation of having an extreme position, defined so easily as ‘Europe at any price’, so all the careful words are lost in this more straightforward narrative.

    If you doubt this, or that our real opponents will portray it as such, please watch QT last night.

    Once again the ‘clever’ people who advise Clegg and Clegg’s inability to think deeply before committing himself as been shown to be not that smart.

  • Matt (Bristol) 28th Mar '14 - 10:23am

    I would suggest that someone in the party get busy and works out how much an estimate extra time would be added to every border check, every airport transfer, for every business trip, every holiday the average Briton takes, if we withdrew from the EU, and present that at the next debate.

    We have to ask where are the emotionally satisfying gains that almost everyone has made from EU membership, not just the background, economic gains?

    Enormous amounts of the country – iin all class and age groups – now use visits to Europe as their playground, their school, their source of inspiration, their break, their little luxury to the extent that they have forgotten it wa not always so. EU withdrawal would be likely to impede and complicate that (although not prevent it; obviously) and it would also make the wider EU more fragile, so less able to promote the wider peace and (more or less) stability in Europe that makes that possible. That’s where to get people – connect the big issues to the small details.

  • “he was prepared to side with Vladimir Putin against the people of Ukraine.”

    I didn’t see/hear the debate so can’t comment on what Farage said.

    However I’m getting very tired of people painting this as Putin vs Ukraine. I’m only interested in the Crimea and what the people there want. I have pretty much equal disdain for Putin and Ukraine.

    “it was offensive to the thousands of protesters (as well as the families of the 100 murdered protesters) who stood up for values that we should share and support.”

    I presume you would exclude the neo-fascist element (which nobody denies exists) from that. My own values are quite old-fashioned in that I believe governments should be removed via elections.

  • Matt “extra time would be added to every border check, every airport transfer, for every business trip, every holiday the average Briton takes, if we withdrew from the EU, and present that at the next debate.”

    The thing is, we travel all over the world, not just to Europe. And I don’t remember huge inconvenience when we went to the States or to Egypt etc. yes there was a bit of queuing but nothing out of the ordinary. So although I agree with you about nailing things down to small positive details, I think your suggestion could backfire and people might think if it as scaremongering and from our own experience I honestly don’t remember a trip to the US or Africa being any more time consuming or inconvenient than a trip to Europe. Yes it’s a bit inconvenient paying for a visa etc but I don’t think it’s a killer argument, sorry!

  • Max Wilkinson 28th Mar '14 - 12:22pm

    8-9% say they will vote Lib Dem.

    We’re repeatedly told we are playing to a national market of 25%.

    36% of an audience skewed towards older Eurosceptics say Clegg won the debate.

    Surely that means the debate was a success.

  • “36% of an audience skewed towards older Eurosceptics say Clegg won the debate.”

    I wonder how many times this has to be said – the sample in the YouGov poll was weighted to be representative of the population as a whole regarding attitudes to membership of the EU – that is, it was broadly balanced between “in” and “out” (in fact the most recent YouGov poll, on Tuesday, showed a majority for “in”!).

    So that lead of nearly 20% for Farage didn’t just come from Eurosceptics. Most of the “don’t knows” and some of the pro-Europeans must also have thought Farage won the debate. Clegg didn’t even succeed in convincing the people who were already on his side.

  • Bill,
    You are of course right. When you say —
    “..Once again the ‘clever’ people who advise Clegg and Clegg’s inability to think deeply before committing himself as been shown to be not that smart. ”

    But we should expect nothing better, these were the ‘clever’ people who said that Clegg would double the number of MPs at the last general election. Clegg’s leadership resulted in fewer MPs than Charles Kennedy. But then Charles’ political experience amounted to quite a bit more than being Leon Brittan’s gopher.

  • Nick Collins 28th Mar '14 - 2:38pm

    RC “There were people like you who were never going to say Clegg won because of their ingrained prejudice”.

    Do you make a habit of insulting total strangers? Are you an activist? is that how you respond to people , on the door-steps, who do not agree with you?

    As it happens, I have never expressed an opinion as to whether Clegg or Cameron “won” the debate . I am not in a position to do so because, frankly, I have no time for either of them and therefore did not watch it. What I have said, on other threads, is that I believe that Clegg’s action in gifting Farage this bonus of national media coverge was extremely ill-judged. As STephen Tall now suggests on a new thread, Clegg was clearly motivated by the hope of getting a small increase in the LibDem vote share in May (i.e. by a cynical calculation of his own party advantage, regardless of the effect on the bigger picture).

    I am sorry, RC,but my low opinion of both Clegg and Farage is not “prejudice”, but the result of observation of both those individuals’ political records over several years.

  • Nick Collins:
    The Liberal Democrats are clearly positive towards the EU, we believe in the idea of the EU, its founding principles that were born of a desire never to see war again on between its member states and will always work towards the success of the EU. Change, reform, call it what you will, will always be with the intention of making the EU more rather than less successful.

    It is absurd to suggest that Lib Dems should somehow be self-censuring in this matter. UKIP are clearly anti EU and in Farage’s case this antipathy blinds his judgment in respect of the desire of many (but clearly not all) Ukrainians to be closer to the EU. UKIP are representative of a strong tide of Europhobia in England. For well over a decade while the tide of Europhobia has swelled, Euro-positive voices have been muted. The keep quiet and hope it all goes away approach has clearly failed.

    Cynicism be damned, you can fabricate whatever Machiavellian impulses you will, but you cannot expect Lib Dems to stand by in dumb paralysis while the UK drifts through the exit door.

  • Nick Collins 28th Mar '14 - 4:48pm

    @ Martin: I have not suggested that the LibDems should be “self-censuring” (or even self-censoring). Neither have I advocated a “keep quiet and hope it goes away ” attitude towards opponents of the EU. But I do censure Clegg’s free gift of extra publicity for them.

    And, remembering the AV referendum campaign, I fear that nothing will do more to usher the UK towards the exit door than having Clegg as the self-appointed champion of “In”.

  • Like Stuart I missed the debate and like him I also reject the interpretation of events in the Ukraine as being Putin vs the Ukraine.

    Consider the picture from a Crimean perspective. The Crimea has three times voted to re-join Russia by massive majorities – in a 1992 referendum, in a subsequent general election where that was the main plank of the winning local candidate and then again in the recent referendum which, although obviously imperfect, clearly represented the will of the vast majority.

    Then from a Russian perspective Crimea, home of its Black Sea fleet, is strategically vital but even more alarming is seeing NATO aligned countries advance their (metaphorical) tanks right into Russia’s porch in a flagrant breach of earlier assurances that this would not happen. Kennedy took the world to the brink of nuclear conflict over the Cuban missile crisis yet this is far closer to Russian heartland than that ever was. Moreover, the US is par excellence the leading proponent of regime change in the world with hard right neocons in influential positions throughout the Washington establishment. Russians remembers that invasion from the west that cost millions of dead within living memory. So, against that background how should Putin react? Had the west respected Russian sensitivities we could surely have done a deal whereby Crimea got to vote with international observers and no troops involved. It looks much more as if the US game plan is to encircle Russia. That at least appears to be the scenario that Putin believes.

    As for the Ukraine we are told the IMF will give them a bailout to help them out but how true is this? Here’s another view from economists Michael Hudson and Jeffrey Sommers: “the [IMF] has told the kleptocrats, the ten or 12 billionaires that run the country, we will make you very, very rich if you join us. We will give you a lot of IMF money, you can transfer it into your banks and your bank accounts, you can then send it abroad to your offshore banking centers, and the Ukrainian people will owe it. So you can do the Ukraine what the Irish government did to the Irish: you can take the public money, you can give it all to the private bankers, and then you can tax your people and make them pay…[and] as the IMF gives the loan to the Ukraine…Russia says that Ukraine owes $20 billion, dating back to the Soviet Union era in exchange for, in addition, to about $5 billion or $6 billion for the oil subsidies that it’s been given. Russia said it is going to charge Ukraine the normal oil price, not the subsidized price. So all the money that the IMF and the U.S. gives Russia says is immediately owed to it itself…Whatever happens, either the Russian government will get the IMF money for gas and imports or the kleptocrats will. None of the money…[is] going to go to the Ukrainian economy any more than the IMF money went to the Irish economy or the Greek economy or the other economies that are there. IMF money doesn’t go to the country and it doesn’t go to the people. It goes to the billionaires who run them to take the money and immediately send it back to the West so it’s a circular flow, and it goes in and out of Ukraine in about 20 minutes.”


    Who knows where the truth lies in all this? What I would say is that the EU’s hands may not be bloody but there are strong grounds to think them very grubby indeed. And Tim Farron would be wise to take good and careful advice.

  • Little Jackie Paper 28th Mar '14 - 7:24pm

    GF – Would you have a source for that? Wiki says something rather less on Crimea post-1991.


  • Paul In Twickenham 29th Mar '14 - 9:59am

    On the upside… a few weeks ago I commented that Paddy Power were offering a bet on the total number of MEPs to be elected for each party, and the betting for the Lib Dems was based on “less than 0.5″ or “more than 0.5″. So the expected result was a total wipeout.

    Well…. (drum roll…) they’re now offering Lib Dems “less than 1.5″ or “more than 1.5″. Success you can see!

  • Several points:

    The EU can not be reformed – the acquis communautaire has a ratchet effect – the powers that the UK agrees to pass over to the EU can not be returned without the agreement of the other 27 nation states under QMV rules. Clegg knows this and is therefore misleading the people of this country.

    His statistics are dubious – Open Europe have their doubts as to the veracity of his ‘facts’

    However the LibDems portray themselves they do not come over as democratic – they did not support a vote for the Lisbon Treaty but threw up the IN/OUT distraction – they ran away from the argument. Clegg lied on this.

    The Ukraine situation has highlighted the powers, or lack of them, that the EU has. Can the EU really commit us to sanctions and military action targeted at another sovereign nation?
    The ordinary Joe/Jane on the street have become heartily disgusted at our political elite’s seeming lust for foreign military adventures, and I, and I suspect many others, are terrified by the thought of the EU setting itself up as a superpower.
    Farage, for all his faults, has done us all a favour in bringing this argument into the public sphere – as it stands, any EU action on issues like Ukraine seem to be committed to without any public support in this country.

  • Paul Reynolds 29th Mar '14 - 2:03pm

    Great debate (above). I listened to the LBC debate very carefully while waiting for a flight. I thought Nick was a bit wobbly on the ‘number of immigrants able to leg it over to the UK’ accusations by Farage, but generally I thought that Nick was the more polished and confident performer. I thought I detected a few momentary losses of confidence by Garage especially on key facts like the % of laws in the UK originatining from the EU. I thought he felt deflated at the end and thought he may have lost. That is why I suspect he came up with the ‘blood on their hands’ comment on the EU and Ukraine. NY assumption having listened to the debate was that opinion polls would show a win for Farage simply because, as the polls show, so many people emotively support the view that immigration, both EU and non-EU, is too high. The Farage ‘win’ I anticipated would be more a reflection of emotive public anxiety about immigration than a belief that Garage ‘won’ the debate. Luckily, if one goes along with my argument for the moment, Farage was cornered into an error on Ukraine which will haunt him.

  • “… a few weeks ago I commented that Paddy Power were offering a bet on the total number of MEPs to be elected for each party, and the betting for the Lib Dems was based on “less than 0.5″ or “more than 0.5″. “

    No wonder the Lib Dems were floating the idea of jobsharing for parliamentarians!

  • Peter Tyzack 31st Mar '14 - 11:22am

    Bill le Breton is so right: ‘our opponents will portray it..’.. when are people going to see that our real opponents are the massed ranks of the media and their distorted rhetoric, based on biased and heavily weighted ‘opinion polls’. So many discussions on here, and on the broadcast media revolve around ‘what the papers say’ and ‘the polls say..’. Until we break free of that and plough our own furrow with confidence we are forever destined to be defined by them..

  • Little Jackie Paper – a timeline of events including the 1991 (not 1992 as I said earlier) referendum is available here.


    The winner of the later general election was the subject of a TV profile I saw. It was probably the BBC but I can’t now trace it.

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