November 2007

Please, if by some mischance you haven’t already, read this. In fact print it out, fold it up, and keep it in your weskitt pocket for whiling away the time at bus-stops.

I haven’t seen the full Politics Show yet, just the half-minute excerpt on the BBC website where the Calamity Clegg document was produced. So what follows may need revision when I’ve seen the whole thing. But at first sight, it ain’t pretty. It’s the first real blow my neophyte enthusiasm for the party as a whole has taken. And while I doubt it will turn me into a Clegghead, I’m highly disappointed in Huhne’s unintelligent behaviour.

But that exchange and the fall-out has crystallized my thoughts on what characterises a Clegg supporter and what characterises a Huhne supporter, and why, in the blogosphere anyway, they just can’t seem to get along.

Nick’s powers of empathy really served him well in that exchange. He knew instinctively to look wounded and let his emotion show on his face, and to roll his eyes at Sopel. There’s nothing particularly calculated about any of this. Note my use of the word “instinctively”. Nick is better at dealing with certain kinds of situation than Chris. Chris needs to literally learn himself some empathy – and like anything else it can be learnt. Instead, he blundered on and looked bad as a result, unnecessarily sledge-hammering and failing to knock the Calamity Clegg thing on the head, out of some misguided instinct to remain looking unconcerned. Bad call. The correct response would have been to look horrified and offer an instant fulsome apology for the use of emotive language in the title and distance himself from the contents, rather than associating his attack with it. He could still have said all the same things. My suspicion is that his campaign team had decided there had been too much agreement on Question Time, and his brief was to go out and highlight differences. On being confronted with the Calamity Clegg thing Chris should have softened this strategy for just those few minutes, and he didn’t.

Clegghead supporters have reacted to the spat on an emotional level. Their hero has been dealt an unfair broadside, and therefore takes the moral victory. Chris is not merely displaying unattractive qualities, he is actually a Bad Person. There is an uncritical assumption in the air that Nick won that exchange on the basis that Chris was being “nasty”.

On any rational analysis that isn’t the case at all. As other Huhnistas have already pointed out, Chris was being brutal, but Nick was – in the clip I saw anyway – being flimsy. His usual style, aptly described by a poster on a Lib Dem Voice thread, of feeling his way towards an answer served him well on Question Time, but it doesn’t serve him well when he is under sustained verbal attack. He never prodded back at Chris with the concise ten-word shot of anger the situation demanded. Because he just doesn’t communicate like that. He was “in the right” because he was the target of a poorly titled briefing document that ought never to have seen the light of day, and which will confirm the public’s worst assumptions about politics. But one day he’ll be the one on the backfoot because of some similar blunder – is he still going to look that flimsy, unable to articulate quickly and lethally under pressure?

And this brings us to the nub of it, because it is perfectly clear to me that half the blogosphere genuinely believes there is inherent value in Nick’s communication style, and the other half just doesn’t. The emotive, thinking out loud, feeling your way style that appeals to Cleggheads doesn’t appeal to me. I am drawn in by a disciplined delivery, an exposition of “This is what I think, this is why”, like I am drawn in by an unforgivingly technical book on a subject I love. Sorry, but I just am. It’s the way I’m made. I am into systems, not into people.

Many Cleggheads (it goes without saying that I generalise hopelessly) are made differently. They are into people. They will see that moral victory as unquestioningly superior to any rational victory. The recurrent descriptions of Chris as “dry” and “boring” are as meaningless as descriptions of Nick as “waffly” or “lacking in substance”. All these labels just reflect the different preferences of the individual. Now, by all means shoot me down in flames, but my feeling from reading the blogs over the last few weeks is that some Cleggheads get positively indignant about Huhnista stances, and frequently display frustration with Huhnistas for not “seeing” what to them is the simple truth of Clegg’s superiority. And there do seem, by all reports, to be some rotten eggs in the Huhne basket, which I’m sure doesn’t help. Although having said that, I have actually been far more aware of a tidal wave of Cleggheads yelping about how nasty the Huhne camp are than I have been of the nastiness they’re talking about. But then I’m not on the inside, so maybe I’m just missing a lot.

Both sides should recognise that neither opinion is fact. If you’re a systems-person or a people-person, nothing on earth can make you otherwise. There’s a phrase used in psycho-analysis for this and it’s “Pygmalion project”, after the play, where one person in a relationship tries to change and “improve” the other. Ultimately, we’ll get the leader we collectively want more, and I think that’ll be Nick, because people-people tend to outnumber systems-people (in the party as in the wider world). Which is fine because there are lots of positive reasons why Nick would make a great leader. They just aren’t reasons that recommend him particularly to me. So I’m not going to vote for him, however good he is at looking hurt (and I’m not saying that’s not an important political attribute, because it’s won him a lot of friends today and a vote is a vote). There is really nothing wrong with this view, and I am getting slightly fed up with the shrill insistence ringing around the blogosphere that there is.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Approved as Quite Interesting by Mr Stephen Tall

Needless to say, my blog-toilet hybrid has utterly failed to do its job so far because only nice, reasonable, non-shrill people have commented.

Howsobeit, I have been tagged for the Crazy Eight meme by Peter Black (although I don’t understand what is so crazy about it) and here in the People’s Republic no-one ever need ask us to navel-gaze twice…

8 things I’m passionate about:
History and archaeology

Living a Good Life

The environment


London, Italy and Devon – my favourite places


The future of property ownership and society’s perception of the tenant

An end to excessive punctuation

8 things I want to do before I die
Travel across the stans on the back of a donkey, probably with a parasol, a valise and a butterfly net

Have a family of some sort

See Patagonia

Have a book published

Be on Start the Week

Learn to surf

Live in Italy

Release my inner chorus girl

8 things I say often
Oh for fuck’s sake

Another triumph/failure* in the annals of Mortimer

Maybe I should just get both

Pint of Star, please

Fair play to him/her…



This will last out a night in Russia, when nights are longest there**
8 books I’ve read recently or am still reading
Britain BC – Francis Pryor

Heresies – John Gray

Arturo’s Island – Else Morante

HP & Deathly Hallows – J K Rowling

Secret History - Donna Tartt (comfort re-read)

The Unauthorised Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible – Robin Lane Fox

This Thing of Darkness – Harry Thompson

The Mauritius Command – Patrick O’Brian (comfort re-read)

8 songs I could listen to over and over and do:
Arcade Fire – Neighbourhood 1 (Tunnels)

Kings of Leon – Fans

Spiritualized – Take your time

Libertines – Can’t stand me now

Fleetwood Mac – Never going back again

The Undertones – Get over you

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Let the cool goddess rust away

Velvet Underground – Heroin

8 things that attract me to my best friends
Irreverance and sarcasm

Straight talk

Readiness to laugh

Passion and compassion



Good egginess


8 people I think should do Crazy 8s


Mat Bowles

Charlotte Gore

James Graham

Millennium Elephant (four of each for him and Daddy Richard)


Anthony Fairclough 

Cassy Sachar 

Leadership contenders (hey, they need procrastination tools too):

Nick Clegg

Chris Huhne 

* As appropriate. Triumph can of course be used ironically. Failure never is.

** Well, not often. There isn’t often a call to say it. But when there is, that is what I say.

I probably won’t be doing much writing over the weekend. In fact I won’t be doing much of anything except dancing frenetically in weirdly-lit hellish cellars because I am about to enter into a ninety-six hour gigtastic bender. As we young(ish) people say. So as a favour to the rest of the Lib Dem blogosphere I will be turning my blog into a toilet for the duration.

Are YOU prone to bleating, whining, wetting yourself, throwing all your toys out of the pram and beating your little fists against your keyboard? Do YOU regularly call for the contest to concentrate on policy issues while writing yet another post that doesn’t?

Do YOU find yourself regularly using words like “smear” and “spin”, and have you at any point over the last five weeks shaken your head gravely and with barely concealed glee muttered “Well, his supporters aren’t doing him any favours at all, that’s all I’m saying.”

Can’t watch a clip of Nick Clegg, a polylingual Cambridge graduate, without making mean-spirited, shirty remarks about lack of substance? Can’t listen to Chris Huhne give a less than glowing opinion of his opponent without concluding that he is the antichrist? Can’t read a post by a supporter of the opposite camp without running off to write your own about how meeeeean all the opposite supporters are?

This toilet blog post is for YOU and your pointless brainwaste! Get it all out of your system in a safe environment! Get your arse off Lib Dem Voice so that the rest of us can have a conversation, and use this blog instead! Do us and the candidates a favour!

Here comes the comments section. The filters are off, and there ain’t no troll policy. You know who you are and you know what to do…

Following on from James Graham’s ‘Inter-generational equity with background of handbags’ moment, Alex Foster has an interesting poser – why have no women yet submitted video questions for the candidates, as invited by Chris ‘cunning as a’ Rennard?

Answer: because we are far too busy doing all the actual work to have time to video ourselves asking why other people aren’t doing it properly. And because we are plotting to kill you. All of you. And take over the world.


Actually, in all seriousness, as soon as I saw the Rennard clip I thought, “What a freaking gimmicky waste of time, why would anyone want to video themselves asking a question, what does it really add to the proceedings, when will we get our pointy heads round the idea that ‘innovative campaigning’ and ‘YouTube-compatible’ are not the same thing?” Yes, I thought all that. I did not think, “Hey, I could ask a question about Darth Vader and Spiderman. Cooooool.”

Personally, I’d rather write a question down and get a written answer, because you get more information and the respondent has to think about their answer more than they would if they were talking. I remain obdurately convinced that a clear writer is a clear thinker, but I realise it is just possible that I am clinging to a melting icesheet with an elitist tinge here.

So I wonder if it simply reflects the ratio of men to women who are (a) actively involved and (b) online as a matter of course. To play lazy-ass observational demographics for a moment, there’s a party spike in activist men under fortyish whose activism has a strong online bias, and another spike in activist women over fiftyish whose activism is founded in, er, real life or whatever it is called.

Fourteen men have submitted questions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the ratio of male-to-female online active members is greater than 14-1. So at the moment, mathematically-speaking, less than one woman has filmed herself asking a question, which is probably why that clip isn’t being shown because it would freak people out.

Top marks for this insight:

Later, Mr Miliband also warned that Mr Brown could lose the next general election unless the Government was seen to be effective and competent.

This time my new word is in English, not French. It comes courtesy of David Miliband, who has said that Gordon Brown would also have invaded Iraq had he been Prime Minister at the time. Well, thank arse that’s cleared up. Diplomats of the world, stand down.

Miliband’s words were as follows:

[David Miliband] conceded that decisions taken since the war “could have been done better” but insisted: “No one is resiling from the original decision.”

Resiling? I thought. Isn’t it funny when you hear a word you have literally never heard before. I mean, not just heard before and not understood, or heard before, adopted as your own and casually used in circumstances where the fact that you don’t really know what it means doesn’t matter. Just never heard before at all. I’d heard Gadarene, but not resiling.

From Merriam-Webster:

intransitive verb
Inflected Form(s):
re·siled; re·sil·ing
Late Latin & Latin; Late Latin resilire to withdraw, from Latin, to recoil

Is the Foreign Secretary playing “Use this word in a sentence in a policy announcement this week” with himself?

I have been on NHS Direct trying to work out a way of having a flu jab without involving myself in the sheer psychological wear and tear of speaking to my doctor’s surgery. I don’t find such a way, but I do find this engaging little paragraph:

Note: The flu jab only protects you against ordinary flu, there is no vaccine for pandemic flu. Until a pandemic occurs, scientists cannot develop a suitable vaccine. Measures are in place to deal with pandemic flu if it should occur. The best advice is not to panic.

When you click on “panic” a little glossary box pops up which says “To panic is to be quickly overcome by fear or worry.”

Well I feel put in my place and no mistake.

In the comments below. We are only a very little Republic so it’s very exciting for us. Quick, somebody prepare the guest tower!

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