Monday, November 19, 2007

Is this what Blair v Brown would have been like?

As regular readers of this blog will know, I both like and admire Chris Huhne while having always been rather sceptical about his rival Nick Clegg, but I can't help but feel that it is the 53-year-old environment spokesman who will end up being the most damaged by yesterday's unedifying spat on the BBC Politics Show.

The nuclear option of attacking Clegg personally and portraying him as Cameron-lite was always open to Huhne, but I only expected him to deploy that option had it reached the point where he had nothing to lose. What I cannot understand is why he opted to deploy it at this stage, after a strong Question Time performance last week which would have persuaded many undecided party members to vote for him.

For what it's worth, my view is that they will now be less likely to do so. However its MPs might behave, the Liberal Democrat grassroots are emphatically not the nasty party, and its membership will take a dim view of anyone who so openly attacks a colleague.

Whichever of the two candidates ends up as leader, they are both major assets to the party, and for one of them to attack the other in that way diminishes that asset as well as dividing the party. In the words of one opposition commentator today, "anyone who was thinking of voting LibDem will have been profundly put off by the whole episode."

One person who knows this all too well is Gordon Brown. In 1994, he could have deployed the nuclear option against Tony Blair, portraying him as SDP Mark II (if only...!) and highlighting his policy flip-flops in much the same way Huhne did to Clegg.

I still believe Brown could have beaten Blair by employing such a strategy, but he knew that the party would have ended up so divided that victory would not have been worth the candle. I fear that this is now the fate awaiting Huhne should he go on to defy the odds and win.

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Anonymous said...

Surely it is the fundamental damage done to the party-at-large that is the only significant consequence of the ‘car crash in public’ that was the verbal punch-up these two leading Lib Dems?

I don’t believe I have seen a more appalling display of disunited and disingenuous behaviour on the same public stage from two leading figures of the same mainstream party.

I cannot help but feel that anyone other than an utterly committed Lib Dem, and even a few of them, will have just given up taking the party seriously if this is the kind of scenario it produces.

When Huhne was ambushed with the briefing from his office, his instinctive reaction was not quite absolutely to deny it, then at least say its title was unacceptable, but then went on to try and use the thrust of it in a highly personal attack on his opponent.

His opponent Clegg seemed unable to either deal with, or capitalize on, the ‘caught-with-his-pants-down’, but still rumbustious, Huhne… if Clegg couldn’t handle/capitalize on that scenario it hardly seems like he could handle a Prime Minister at Questions Time in the Commons, never mind be a Prime Minster.

skipper said...

Bower suggests Brown did not stand against Blair because he was scared he'd lose, as he had done against Robertson in the 1978 by-election. And I think he was wise not to stand as Blair would have walked it; he was so much more charming and acceptable to Middle England than the dour Gordon, not to mention Labour MPs. Maybe with hindsight we might wish he hadn't but he was rightly the bookie's favourite and Gordon knew it.

Anonymous said...

If they had any sense they would keep Vince Cable who is doing very well. I don't know why everyone is so impressed by Clegg, certainly he is handsome but I have not seen any signs of great potential as a leader. Of the two I find Huhne the more impressive but is doesn't really matter does it.

Ted Foan said...

I have read your blog only occasionally and assumed you were a supporter of the Brownite version of NuLabour.

It's fascinating to find you are actually a LibDem. An interesting synthesization of views?

I shall read you more often!

Anonymous said...

It's worth remembering that David Davis has done a great job as Shadow Home Secretary after losing to Cameron in 2005, but I can't see Huhne and Clegg working together after this hilarious spat.

Chris Paul said...

Apparently Norman Baker MP has started on a new tome proving that it was Clegg who sent the Calamity Clegg dossier to Sopel.

Claire Khaw said...

A protest rally is due to take place in Oxford this evening - 20 November 2007 - against a debate on free speech scheduled to take place at its prestigious Union next Monday to which David Irving and Nick Griffin have been invited as speakers.

Whether next Monday’s debate goes ahead remains to be seen. Apparently, the matter is to be decided after a Union meeting on Friday when members will be asked to vote on the issue.

Vote: Should David Irving and Nick Griffin be allowed to participate in a debate on free speech at the Oxford Union?

WorkingClassHero said...

Huhne and Clegg are both yellow Tories.

Not an insult, as such, just a description. The age of the SDP-inspired Lib Dem leadership(Ashdown, Kennedy and Campbell)is now over. Huhne, Clegg, Laws et al. are basically pro-european, liberal Tories.

That other leg of the dead parrot party, the old fashioned Simon Hughes liberals will decide the result. Are they ready to embrace the Orange Book?

Anonymous said...

Ashdown and Campbell SDP-inspired? Shurely shome mishtake? Ashdown was elected as a Liberal MP in 83, and Campbell was elected as a Liberal MP in 87.