Thursday, January 12, 2006

At least 5 reasons to vote for Menzies Campbell (or Chris Huhne): No.4

Chris Huhne is intending to declare on Friday. Simon Hughes is planning to declare today (the Independent seems behind a bit on supporters for Chris Huhne).

Simon Hughes made an generally positive impression on me at the Cambridge University Lib Dems rally (I always imagine rallies to be slightly less civilised). He brought along a visitor to his constituency surgery - a young man who due to Labour's attempts to look 'tough' on asylum and immigration (without addressing the fundamental flaws in the system) was reduced to living on bread and any food he could get for free. Simon was trying to achieve some resolution to his situation. It was one of the most powerful things I've seen at a political event - it reminded me again of the human cost of poor politics and reinforced for me why I'm politically active. Sometimes I forget why I'm doing this whilst I'm sitting through dull discussions and meetings dominated by people who enjoy the sound of their own voice.

There were two other things that made an impact on me. First, Simon talked to students afterwards and asked me whether I thought it worked (it did) or whether it seemed like a gimmick. Second, Simon was late to the meeting. I think this rally was something of a microcosm of Simon Hughes as a politician and despite the fact I have the utmost respect for him (and I admire him for providing me with such a memorable and powerful political memory), I don't think he should be leading the Lib Dems.

The main shop-window for Simon Hughes was the London mayoral election. I've receives two types of 'bad vibe' about the mayoral election campaign from talking to other party members and now by my own research . First, that Simon Hughes is someone who relies on style and 'gimmicks' (CHECK - the constituency surgery guy) but with less intellectual substance. Second, that he's an enthusiastic campaigner and a deeply principled man but he isn't terribly well-organised (CHECK - the late arrival). A bit of judicious googling reveals the case for the prosecution repeated again:

Moreover, despite the fact that Simon's lengthy campaign is well underway, there are only two fairly unspecific policy documents on his site, and a page of policy aspirations. These include such good intentions as to "encourage cycling and walking and end road works anarchy", "maximise investment", "lead the battle against poverty and for a more equal London" ( These aspirations suffer from the same problem as Michael Howard's "I Believe" pledges: most people will agree with the sentiments, but come away none the wiser about how he intends to achieve anything. The full manifesto has yet to appear. [Emphasis added]

[NB: I remember the campaign website since it gave me a negative impression of Simon Hughes. It's been taken down now but it looked pretty unprofessional - like a local party site layout-wise but using an ugly black 'Impact-like' font]

And again:

Yellow background with few detailed policies but lots of photographs of Simon Hughes, photographs of ordinary people talking about Simon Hughes ("We need more police in London. My vote is for Simon," says one elderly lady) and weak jokes based around his name: "Simon says ... 'Simon Hughes for a London united'." [Emphasis added]

And again:

Until then, Mr Livingstone's campaigners say, they had been progressing smoothly, with one factor being the failure of the Liberal Democrats to mount a coherent threat. Simon Hughes stated that his strategy was to overtake Mr Norris and put himself in a position to beat Mr Livingstone in the second stage, when the second-preference votes were counted. But most of his attacks were levelled at Mr Livingstone. One source in the Livingstone camp said: "It was great for us, but it was astoundingly incompetent." Mr Hughes produced a newspaper linking Mr Norris, the Jarvis chairman, with the Potters Bar rail crash. But the attack was not maintained. "He talked about taking votes from Norris, but didn't do much to achieve that. We just left him to shoot himself in the foot," said the source. [Emphasis added]

And on the subject of gimmicks:

He launched his campaign in unorthodox fashion. In a crisp, white boiler suit, he used a high pressure water hose to blast a painted section of a wall close to Spitalfields market in east London. As the black covering disappeared, a stencilled logo became visible bearing the slogan: Simon Says; Action Speaks Louder Than Words.

And just for a variation from the Grauniad:

In 2004, the candidate was the much more prominent Simon Hughes – but the campaign, seeming this time to attack the Tories harder than it did the incumbent, disappointed and the result was 15.3% of the vote. In 2008, the strategy will be rethought, but sticking with an MP with a pre-existing public profile seems sensible. Possible contenders could be Hornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone, who previously served on the GLA; or Carshalton and Wallington MP Tom Brake, surely a headline writer’s dream for a post in which transport policy figures strongly.

It's also worth mentioning that we got 15.22% of first preferences in that election, despite the effect of Ken Livingstone rejoining the Labour party (and the Iraq war) (which cost him at least 2% of the total vote). In the 2000 elections we got 11.9% of first preferences but 15.22% isn't really that much of an improvement since the vote was split more ways in the 2000 election (due to there being 2 Labour candidates). If all Frank Dobson's votes redistributed evenly over the main candidates then each candidate should get a higher absolute number and a higher percentage of first preferences. This is illustrated by Steve Norris who increased his vote share by 2%. I'm not an election calculations person so I wouldn't want to stake my career on this or anything, but it we didn't make rip-roaring progress compared to 2000.

Gimmick-wise, I was also unconvinced by his suggestion of encouraging non-members to stand as PPCs (I can leave it to the reader to imagine the potential problems with this but am happy to explain in the comments box). And if you're not totally convinced by the above, then in the same article he argues to restrict the ability of grassroots members to propose policy to party conference (which isn't style or disorganisation... it's just an insult to the expertise of our members and the democracy of the party. Am again happy to argue this point in the comments):

In a separate set of proposals, which he will present after the party's autumn conference, he will attempt to toughen up the policy making process.

"There's no willingness to let a few people get a wacky idea through [as policy]," he said.

Senior Lib Dems are adamant that the party must ensure a handful of grassroots activists do not approve measures that come back to haunt it, as has happened in the past.

For wider points about intellectual substance I'm hoping my co-blogger appears in due course with his well-argued article (currently in draft as an LDYS forum post) on Simon and Mark both belonging to the 'FOCUS-freak' faction. However, I'll let him make those points...



  • At 10:53 am , Anonymous Simon said...

    Firstly a few points on the London campaign:

    1. Is it really fair to hold Simon responsible for the content of a newspaper in the Mayoral campaign. After all given this is the Lib Dems I am sure we wont have let him write it.

    2. At least Simon has major campaigns experiance and has a reccord of attending rallies and the like. I think having a leader who appears approachable and active will be important.

    More worrying are your comments on conference. However I fear this contempt for conference is something that is widespread amongst the Parlimentary Party. Perhaps Simon was trying to endere himself to this audiance.

  • At 11:32 am , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    1. Yes because I expect he would check anything put up/out in his name (I would) and, if he didn't, then it probably doesn't reflect so well on him anyway

    2. Anyone who is a parliamentarian has campaigns experience (since they ran for parliament). Further, given our leader is one of our only MPs to have a national profile I think it's more important our leader can communicate a coherent, substantial vision to the wider public than attending events held for our activists (these being very different things). This is, incidently, a bit of an abstract argument because I've got no idea how many rallies, etc. the other candidates have attended.

  • At 12:24 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    It's not reasonable to expect him to personally cherck everything going out in his name (look at some by-elections when 100 leaflets go out!) but equally I think you paint a convincing and coherent portrait of his weaknesses, particularly on organisation.

    Adam K


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