Certainly not one of the headlines I was expecting to ever post during the leadership election, but apparently it’s true. Or at least, some are anyway. Yesterday, one of Nick Clegg’s team found this video on YouTube which is worth reading, if not just for the final bit:
Liberal Democrats have a tendency to sympathise with independent election candidates. I think it’s a mixture of the rebellious streak and the community campaigning instincts of Liberal Democrats. But I worry when Liberal Democrats actively support independent candidates either by encouraging them to stand or by standing aside to give them a free run at an election. That is why I am concerned by a posting made by Stewart Arnold on his blog.
The argument that Stewart makes is that the only way to make the issue of Humber Bridge tolls and the bridge’s debt a major national issue is for some single-issue independents to stand against the Labour MPs who represent the constituencies on the south side of the Humber Bridge. Whilst I understand his logic, I do not agree that independents are the answer, and I certainly do not agree with promoting independents without at least first working out if they are liberals, and secondly without seeing if we could do the job more effectively instead.
Many single-issue independents tend to be very focused on one issue, and once that issue is removed they either have no idea what to do (which is why so many independent-run councils are really run by council officers) or they turn out to have some quite unpleasant views on other subjects. It is also quite difficult for one independent to make a difference, whereas one Lib Dem as a part of a bigger group is a lot more effective. By stepping aside, we are also of course putting the election campaign entirely in the hands of that independent, who may be personally sound but their campaigning skills might not be. At least with a Liberal Democrat there is the professional support to help get the person elected.
There are of course some very different precedents to these sorts of campaigns. Electing Richard Taylor in Wyre Forest has not saved Kidderminster Hospital, but at least when the Lib Dems decided not to stand against him it was with the knowledge that he was also supportive of the Liberal Democrats in some other areas as well. In Dunfermline we have fought hard against raising Forth Road Bridge tolls, and as a result Willie Rennie won the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, thereby giving the campaign more clout than it would have had otherwise.
So surely instead of pushing for some random independents, the better strategy would be to promote the election of more Liberal Democrats who can make it a key part of their campaigning. It shouldn’t be that difficult either. The Lib Dems run the councils in North East Lincolnshire and Hull, the party has just elected its first councillor in North Lincolnshire, Hull North is a key Lib Dem/Labour marginal seat at the next General Election, and perhaps even more significantly Stewart Arnold is the partner/husband of the local Liberal Democrat MEP Diana Wallis and is her “Policy and Communications Advisor”.
One of the common myths that seems to have done the rounds during the first week of the Liberal Democrat leadership campaign (has it only been that long?) is that Nick Clegg in some Cameronesque move decided to speak without notes at his campaign launch. It seems to be the media that has pushed the line, but it has then been jumped on by those who wish to see him as all style and no substance.
The reality is that he did speak with notes, they were on a lectern next to him throughout his speech. The difference from usual is that the lectern was put on one side rather than between him and the audience. If you watch the speech carefully, you can see that he often looks to his left to refer to them. Given that he was speaking to a room full of local party members, rather than just a room of journalists, it was a speaking style with which they would be very familiar.
There has inevitably been a lot of criticism about the conduct of the Scottish Parliamentary Elections earlier this year. Some have tried to blame the electronic counting, some the use of STV and some the layout of the ballot paper. I won’t go in to the issues of electronic counting as Joe Otten has already written on this, and he has a far better understanding of the issue. But one of the recommendations that has emerged is something that I have long thought sensible anyway – having different elections on different days.
To me the logic is simple. If you are voting on different issues and to different bodies you should do them on different days to ensure people are clear what they are voting on. I accept this is by no means perfect as it is common for mid-term local elections to end up being a referendum on the performance of the Government, but it isn’t always so and in the case of somewhere like Sheffield the local election results have often bucked the national trend.
Scotland is far from unique in having this issue. Indeed, it is quite common for different elections to be held on the same day. Apart from England often ending up with county council elections on the same day as general elections, countries like Sweden actually plan for all elections to be on the same day every four years but with separate ballot papers that are different colours.
Personally I would prefer to see things arranged so that we had fixed terms with different elections each year. This would mean that political parties would have to keep campaigning, but it would give the different elected bodies four years in which to get on and do something and it would allow for elections to be on different issues. Year one could be General Elections, year two local councils, year three national/regional assemblies/parliaments and year four could be Europe. This does of course suppose that everywhere has a devolved assembly of some sort and that all councils are unitary, but that is for a different posting.
It is unbelievable that it is only four days since Ming Campbell announced his resignation, as so much has happened since then. Today though was the biggest event of the week, with Nick Clegg launching his campaign to be elected Leader of the Liberal Democrats.
The event was held in Sheffield, which I think caused some grumbling amongst journalists, but as a Sheffield MP it was only right and it made so much sense to hold the event in the city that elected him to parliament, with the members who worked so hard to make that possible, and where he has learnt so much that is guiding his election campaign.
I suppose I am feeling particularly chuffed this evening though because I had the job of finding the venue and, with others, organising the launch. I have lived in Sheffield most of my life, and yet I have never had to find a venue or organise anything quite like this before. But then who has? I spent ages trailing around the city centre trying to find somewhere suitable, but in the end the place I found was literally one minute from my front door. I had never been in the Workstation before, but it proved to be the ideal venue and the staff were incredibly helpful when they realised what a big event it was going to be. The Workstation is a building that houses various creative and technological businesses, and so it looked really good as a venue and was conveniently in the city centre and just over the road from the train station.
As it was, the event ran incredibly smoothly and it showed Nick Clegg at his best. I’m not saying that just to spin how good he is in the hope that people will elect him (I have always promised never to lie or spin on this website), but so many people came up to me at the end and remarked on how good they thought Nick had been and well he had spoken, that it is the honest thing to say. In fact in the questions after his speech, it was remarkable how supportive and enthusiastic the members were in backing Nick when they thought a question from a journalist was unfair, as they instinctively just applauded Nick every time. It was really nice actually to have the launch with ordinary members rather than a select group of people or just with journalists, it all seemed really down to earth whilst also looking professional.
The only downer was Michael Crick challenging Nick on his walkabout and then later on in an interview on how the nickclegg.com domain name had been registered in July by Richard Allan. It is such a complete non-story as registering the domain name that includes your own name, when you are a public figure, is considered pretty good practice to stop anyone else using it instead, and there wasn’t anything at that domain until this week when Richard launched the campaign to get Nick to stand.
I am really enjoying this campaign so far, even though it has all happened so suddenly. I am absolutely shattered and am not getting enough sleep, but there is a real buzz and I am learning so much as it goes by. In fact, although I have always rated Nick, he particularly impressed me today and made me really see him as a leader.
Anyway, just to finish off. If anyone reading this is backing Nick Clegg to be the next Leader of the Liberal Democrats, please sign up as a supporter on the supporters’ website: www.nickclegg.com.