One happy side-effect of yer basic glerbleconmicmeldow is the sharp and unflattering relief into which it has thrown some sections of the media – perhaps the whole purpose of media itself. It’s not just that some people persist in not getting what the credit crunch was all about (pay close attention: it wasn’t ree-al mon-ey – it hasn’t “gone” anywhere). It’s that the frequent commentators’ habit of attaching emotive reaction and playground moralspeak to everything they report serves them spectacularly badly when the main substance of the news is economic.

The innate demand of the media engine is that “bad” news be trumped in some final and definitive way by “good” news. Or vice versa. They are, to give them credit, entirely unfussed about whether or not we “win” the glerbleconmicmeldow. But they do demand that someone “wins”. Or Panorama will know the reason why. It’s all totally subjective, of course. The current narrative is that Gordon Brown has won and is “back in control” on the basis that he’s taken some action in an economic emergency. You think he wasn’t taking various less exciting actions three weeks ago? You think there weren’t pictures of him smiling available for press use three weeks ago? Of course you don’t think that, you’re a bright spark who knows how to read newspapers critically, but you get my drift.

The trouble is that applying this simple goodies and baddies logic – irritating at the best of times – to an economic crisis makes the media look utterly bananas. At its height, the mad rodent school of news-making generated several successive days of headlines like this: “FTSE plunges to 21-year low as confidence wanes on world markets”, “Shares surge 7% as bank bail-out restores confidence”, “Markets no longer quite so confident three days after bank bail-out, fall again, this time to worst levels for five years”, “Market recovers slightly in totally nonsensical manner; we reckon this time it’s serious; Brown’s political comeback is complete”, “Market is slightly down again – we ask why?”

And so on. Honestly, guys, are you going to do this on the front page every single day from now on? Because, that’s kind of how markets work all the time. Actually, they’ve finally broken ranks today with David Cameron, Afghanistan and some child porn (not in the same story) but for a whole fortnight it’s been pretty much wall-to-wall angels-on-pinhead-speak. They might as well have spent their time dousing to ascertain the feelings of the wider cosmos and the Great Being. And they wonder why their circulations continue to plummet? This stuff makes no bloody coherent sense.

The other feature of commentariat behaviour that has been disastrously pinned to the wall is the demand for consistency, no matter what is happening to the economy, the world or Peter Mandelson’s hair. Makes perfect sense if the subject under discussion whether you’re for or against ID cards, makes no sense whatsoever if it’s whether you think interest rates should go up or down. Andy Hinton points to a quote from BBC headless rodent Andrew Neil, for example, who is worried – squeak, squeak! – that Vince has gone off the boil because he’s now calling for suspension of the independence of the Bank of England, having said at Lib Dem autumn conference that this would be the wrong thing to do.

Now, I (calling on my in-depth knowledge of, er, middle Anglo-Saxon burial practices) am by no means convinced of the wisdom of suspending the independence of the Bank of England. And Vince’s say-so should be questioned as much as anyone else’s. But even in my dark age ignorance I am tolerably sure that one or two things have, er, changed since the Lib Dem party conference? You know, shifting goalposts? Or pitches, in fact?

The epithet “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” was never more relevant than now, but the media insistence that everything look and sound the same from one day to the next, even from one month to the next (except when it’s Tory environmental policy under discussion, obviously), makes their reportage of a rapidly unfolding economic crisis a nonsense.

Danny Finkelstein displayed a similarly infantile grasp of political morality a week or so ago, tsking over the sad decline of Vince Cable-as-seer (I’m pretty sure he’s doctored his original post, by the way, which I remember as more damning than this; but I’m prepared to be corrected):

Three weeks ago he told the Liberal Democrat conference that:

“The Government must not compromise the independence of the Bank of England by telling it to slash interest rates and generate another dangerous inflationary ‘bubble’.”

In the same speech he contrasted Tory emptiness with the Lib Dem’s: [sic]

“more deeply rooted, more principled, alternative, a clearer analysis of why Britain faces a growing crisis; and a more honest statement of what the Government can and cannot do.”

Then on Sunday this principled, deeply rooted, more clearly analytical man said this:

“What is required is for the chancellor to write to the governor saying that on a temporary emergency basis the committee should assume a central role in countering the crisis with a large cut in interest rate.”

At least when Tony Blair did u-turns he generally moved from the wrong position to the right one. Cable’s new position does not have this merit.

And a lot of boringly clever-sounding people with – damn them – actual knowledge of the subject under discussion came along in the comments to make Fink climb down from the mast to which he had nailed his trousers:

Three weeks ago the FTSE was at 5200. Three weks ago RBS’s market capitalisation was double what it is now. Three weeks ago Ireland and Germany hadn’t unilaterally made moves to guarantee saver’s deposits. Three weeks ago Iceland hadn’t enacted legislation to prevent the country from going bankrupt. Three weeks ago HBOS hadn’t announced merger talks with Lloyds. Three weeks ago … well Danny you get my point… He made the statements at the time of the conference based on the situation at that time. Events change on a daily basis and at the present moment liquidity is the problem. Lowering interest rates, even if temporarily, could encourage LIBOR to fall and banks to lend to each other.

Tcoh. Don’t you just hate these well-informed spods with their bloody longer-than-two-minute attention spans turning up just when you’re trying to fudge together an emotionally-based partisan narrative about the economic crisis from the bits that weren’t good enough to make your main column last week? It shouldn’t happen to a highly-paid opinion former.

Between them, these two stories mark something the party needs to watch out for. Somehow, be it by osmosis or masonic meeting, the media have decided that Vince has had his day in the sun (which, make no mistake, was bestowed upon him initially because they thought it might ruffle Nick Clegg), for no better reason than that it’s in their disturbingly  primitive collective nature to build up idols and then pull them down again.

Expect more groundless finger-pointing and portentous “ummmmmm” noises to follow, and gradually form itself into delicate layers of insinuation like puff pastry, until no-one can remember how the air-filled pile of specious slop that forms the Case Against Vince Cable started, but they’re pretty sure there’s no smoke without fire, and anyway it’s on the deputy editor’s mood board this week so let’s run a story about it. Quickly though, I have to call my crystal healer about moving my car insurance.

After an extended sojourn in our outlying embassy at Lib Dem Voice, we make our triumphal return to the People’s Republic with three of the finest artworks ever bought on the internet for $8.99+shipping. We would like to thank our agent, etc, and are truly feeling rather over-honoured and a bit stunned, although that could be the result of the several well-aimed sticky buns. A shame, given this upbeat homecoming, and in a week when the party has had some of its best media coverage in months (and from some quarters, ever) that we have to begin on a negative note.

But for crying out loud, why didn’t you silly PR pop tarts in Comms think to run this 250,000 phone call survey plan thing past the Information Commissioner? How hard would that have been?

And why make a media splash of it anyway? I’m not necessarily against the idea of an automated phone survey in principle. Every method of information gathering irritates someone, and I probably wouldn’t hang up on something like this provided I was at least peripherally interested in it. But surely the whole point of our talking to directly people and garnering their views is that we don’t have to involve the sodding media.

That’s the main reason why they’re so down on the call survey idea, of course. They know that ultimately this kind of notion, whatever its clumsy shortcomings in early prototypes, renders them irrelevant. Yes, I grow bitter and dark as a bucket of bile, but that’s because I’ve spent all week reading newspapers. God, it’s a sick world those people inhabit. So whose shiny happy idea was it to try to enthuse these blood-encrusted vultures with a plan to – if you’ll excuse me – cold-call the population? You might not think of it like that. I, with a bit of persuasion, might not think of it like that. But what kind of Janet-and-John outlook do you have to have to not see that the media would treat it like that? You numpties.

And this is where Nasty People’s Republican Guard takes a break and Nice People’s Republican Guard comes in with a cigarette and some pictures of their family, because I have some thoughts for the Head of Communications which don’t involve a spike.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a bag of Focus leaflets covered in bar charts must be in want of a campaigning techniques refresher course. But an equally universally acknowledged truth is that we’re running out of track on our successful early 1990s campaign techniques, and ever-subtler refinements to the way we write Focuses, or where we deliver them and in what concentration, are achieving at best tiny increments of improvement. Most people’s solution to this problem is to seek great leaps forward in the national media instead. If we need to shift from “ground war” to “air war”, in Rennard parlance, “air war” translates irresistably for most people into “air waves”.

And that means a perpetual exhausting fight for a decent amount of fair and balanced coverage. People throw whole chunks of their time away on this goal, energy is pissed freely up the wall in the form of impotent rage that we have to scrabble and scream for even a mention of a vast new vista of policy, when the Tory leader, as one LDV wag has it, get full page spreads for saying that nice things are nice and nasty things are nasty. I swear the majority of the press actually thinks we passed the 16p basic rate cut package this week.

I submit that continuing to attempt a balanced relationship with the national media is likely to be  profoundly unrewarding, perhaps destructive, for at least a decade, and render a disproportionately small return to the amount of time and money we spend on it. I submit that we should dump the national media – actually dump them, as in not give them stories – and spend the money on workshops, public information meetings, local information points, websites, local advertising that goes beyond the Focus leaflet (created within the party; party message is too important to be left to professionals) and local campaigning on specific national issues instead. In other words, shoring up what Nick Clegg does himself when he beetles round the country getting shouted at in draughty school gyms. He does it too often and too privately to not find it productive and enjoyable on some level, and he does it deliberately out-of-sight of the national media.

Journalistic writing is necessarily a pigeon-holing exercise. They have to relate one thing to another, make links between different events and concepts, to build up the newspaper’s outlook – a macrocosm of how an individual arrives at their worldview, really. Which is fine, so long as the key political concept you’re trying to advance is something journalists already recognise and have a label for. But they just don’t – en masse anyway – have one for liberalism. Their instinctive, natural grasp of what liberalism means is lacking. I was tickled to learn (though not as tickled as Will Howells) that the Liberal Democrats have finally made it onto the Dewey Decimal system – so journalists may not have an excuse for too much longer. But right now, the outlook for comprehension of what liberalism is all about in the mainstream media is bleak.

Liberalism as a wider political movement has been splintered into environmentalism, pacificism, alternative living and the like more or less since the 1960s, and in abeyance as a high political creed for a century partly as a result. As individuals, journalists have lived through an era in which high politics is dominated by the twin blocs of socialism versus conservatism. No wonder they try to wodge our radical liberalism into mid-20th century Labour and Tory loaf tins. They’ve never known anything else. Most of them have never bothered learning anything else (this is what comes of studying Eng Lit at university instead of history).

That’s why they keep asking Nick Clegg, with repeated, almost desperate insistence, “Aren’t you just like David Cameron?” and then making a headline out of the result. They need the answer to be yes, or they can’t compute what he’s saying. The wellsprings of ideas in two-party politics dried up a decade ago, and that ideological barrenness has infected the fourth estate and invariably saps their powers of reason. That’s why they’re able to make statements, as Cathy Newman did on Channel 4 News last night, like this:

They’re [the Liberal Democrats at conference] a million miles away from reality.

A half-a-second, throwaway one-liner on the end of a report, and to utter it Cathy had to suspend every single rational synapse in her head. Six million people voted Liberal Democrat at the last election. Six million people inclined to a liberal outlook? A tenth of the entire population, a quarter of the voting population? A million miles away from reality? When proportions like that are in the balance, it’s your perception of reality which needs fixing.

When they give us good or fair coverage, it’s sheer chance, a momentary collision of our views with their spin-obsessed binary outlook. Vince has made a joke, Nick has delivered a speech well – therefore the Liberal Democrats must be Doing All Right. The party has created a tax package, or passed a series of measures, which a lemming-minded hack can translate into their weirdly flat and one-dimensional Left/Right worldview – therefore the Liberal Democrats must be Finally Showing People What They Stand For. It’s an accident when it goes well for us in the newspapers, not a sign that they’re developing an embryonic sense of fairness, or suddenly understanding what we’re all about. They never will, until the world has moved on and rediscovered liberalism again (as it may well over the next twenty-odd years) and the media, as is their wont, start following and reporting on that trend.

We know from our experience in local government that people don’t need ideological reference points for liberalism to see that it works. Because devolution and anti-statism are such essential components of the liberal creed, you don’t need a degree in political studies – much less English Literature with Journalism – to make it work for you. It already works for you. It lets you do what the hell you like so long as you don’t harm anybody else.

Simple. But not easily reportable. Liberalism’s strength lies in its acceptance of disparate points of view. That is just far too far a cry from the top-heavy high politics reportage favoured by most political editors, floundering around either in the 1970s or 1980s as the case may be, babbling about new angles and fresh ideas at brainstorming sessions, and all the while totally failing to comprehend the seismic shift in the political landscape. The Westminster Village, if its current course of irrelevance continues alongside a global recession, will eventually topple into a newly-created ravine and mass-participation liberal society will flow into the space left (it’ll have to; they say society is three meals away from revolution – even truer that society is three missed bin collections away from self-government).

Individual journalists might be natural liberals, and they’ll pick up on liberal trends anyway, without needing us to point them out – assuming their editor allows it. But taken as a whole, the media is a shuddering monolithic automaton with two default settings, and our words are wasted in trying to communicate with it. We need to wait for the dinosaurs to die and a more thoughtful younger generation to take over (assuming they’ll do so via the national media at all; there may not even be a newspaper industry in twenty years’ time). And next time the media calls, we need to hang up the phone.

Yesterday’s kite-flying in the Torygraph can now be put into some kind of context. They’re just having another anti-Lib Dem week. Apparently we’re, you know, at death’s door again. Nothing to worry about, everybody, perfectly normal for the time of year, just keep your umbrellas up…

There are many choice comments from the usual stupidity merchants - and also a piece of outsider’s balanced analysis from one Igonikon Jack at 8.12am which is well worth reading to re-orient oneself - but this is my absolute favourite. My emboldening:

“Rumour has it that Nick Clegg is suggesting that if he got into power he would increase the tax take on privately funded pensions for all higher rate tax payers.

What a clot! How dull is that?

At a time when pensioners are in dire trouble over their care provisions, brought about in no small part by the Brown raid on pension, he is advocating making it worse for them.

Sorry, if Mr Clegg is so inept and out of touch with what is going on in the real world he is unelectable.”


So the hills (possibly – can anyone on the ground advise?) of Crewe are alive with Labour’s death rattle. Llamas, top hats and the discarded husks of activist consciences litter the landscape.

Those responsible for the various Class Hatred for Dummies-style japes (“You’d better ask the experts about that,” says the local Labour leader) are claiming the tactics have worked inasmuch as they have successfully moved the debate on from the 10p fudge. And there are plenty of hard heads in the Lib Dem campaigning teams, I’m sure, who would nod approvingly at this. (more…)

A mystery was unveiled at the bloggers’ interview with the Cleggster last week, which has been most excellently written up in full by That Elephant thus leaving me free to flit over the surface in dilettantish fashion.

We were talking about the national media, specifically about how they won’t unkink their anuses sufficiently to actually discuss Liberal Democrat policy, principles or progress in the national consciousness in case they copiously shit themselves with terror (I am paraphrasing, obviously) at the idea that there may be life outside the two-party consensus.

Clegg’s approach, with which I would guess we all concur, albeit with the odd bit of heartening militancy, is simply to find ways round them. The country is full of local newspapers whose reportage people trust far more than the nationals, and whose news editors are only too pleased to bag a briefing with a national political figure. It’s also full of underused town halls for Nick to “beetle around” answering questions at public meetings to which the national media are not invited. And most of all it’s full of real people who only read a national newspaper on a Sunday if at all. Sooner or later, he says, the media will have to take notice of us because we’ll be too big and successful to ignore. And we’ll have done it without them. 

The idea that it’s the national media who are in crisis has a ring of truth about it. Why else would we upset some of them so much? It strikes me that the inexorable rise of the Liberal Democrats is the acid test for the survival of the old-style national media machine. Like quitting smoking the experience is much harder than it looks for them. They need to quit the Two Party Consensus. When and if they admit that the Lib Dems are, er, what they say they are, to wit a national political party, they will have overcome a major psychological hurdle and demonstrated a proper grasp of the national scene. Until then, they just look increasingly bloody silly, covering themselves with the political equivalent of nicotine plasters, scuttling guiltily down the alley for a furtive briefing session with Iain Dale, adopting ever greater contortions to avoid mentioning the fact that the Lib Dems are now pretty obviously in the big time.

The reason this puts them in crisis is that they’re relying on a USP which is now outmoded, and that much they do understand. Clegg told us how he gets his news, it’s just like I do, and it’s not by Reading A Newspaper. He “magpies” it (a rather natty verb, new on me, incorporating elements of both cherry-picking and winging it; use it in a sentence this week why don’t you) from a daily email update that summarises all the coverage of top stories across all the newspapers, from bits and pieces people send him, from specialist journals or magazines, from a glance at the ticker tape. Part of the traditional print media’s successful evolution over the past decade has been the development of news delivery paths that serve that magpie instinct.

But over the next decade or so that will make bugger-all difference if they continue to print – virtually or on paper – stuff that people are ever-decreasingly interested in reading because it bears no relation to their own lives or the lives of their communities. Despite all the bollocks hanging off national media websites, the blogs, comment columns, and other interactive danglers, the message being peddled is the same as it has been for twenty years. Fifty years, even. Newspapers, virtual and papery, are still written as if it’s 1951, when everybody except the Trots, the illegally ballotted budgerigars and those who expired with postwar boredom on the way to the polling station voted for Labour and the Tories (98% was it?), as against 68% in 2005.

Now to the mystery. Apparently, and notwithstanding his wise injunction that there is no point in our getting overly upset about any of this, Clegg had a good rant at the editorial team of a national newspaper not long ago. He pointed out that their politics coverage was totally and utterly incomprehensible to, for example, the constituents of Sheffield Hallam, who voted out their last Tory in the dark ages and perceive the whole question of the “two horse race” entirely differently from the national media. He rattled off to us, probably to them as well, the list of cities across the north controlled by the Lib Dems – Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Grimsby, Hull. Major British population centres where the Liberal Democrats are the ruling party. They’re just not places the media live. They are satellites of unreality to your average political editor, fiddly little anomalous departures from a norm that has remained fixed in Fleet Street perception for half a century.

So which newspaper was on the wrong end of the Clegg effect? I’ve been wondering ever since and today I wonder if I found the answer. It has been pretty clear since December that the national media and its two-party acolytes are absolutely panting to say that Clegg isn’t a success, and they’re being continuously thwarted by the fact that the only real blunder he’s made so far has been in mismanaging the Europe vote (note I say mismanaging; the position itself still looks fair enough from the People’s Republic). But even in an atmosphere of increasing desperation to score any sort of meaningful hit on Clegg, this piece of trying it on by Sam Coates is really stunningly trivial:

Sir Menzies Campbell was always tortured over whether he should use the “Sir” in official Liberal Democrat literature after he became leader.

Ah, ze old compare-to-previous-leader trick, eh? What juicy revelation will follow? Has Clegg punished a local exec member for not standing up when he entered a room? Demanded that he be referred to as The Anointed One in internal memos? Shot a flunkey for underboiling his morning egg? Read on, I can hardly bear it.

So it is nothing short of hilarious that Nick Clegg has decided to adopt the styling “The Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP” in his official literature. It appears in his introduction to the new “City Manifesto” (not yet online, but page 2 when it appears).

Really? “Nothing short of hilarious”? Are you sure, Sam? Laughs must be in damn short supply at Red Box Blog Towers. I mean, it’s not even a cheap hit. It’s a flag popping out of the end of a gun with “BANG!” written on it, and I would protest that far from its merely being cheap you couldn’t pay someone to administer it, except that the Times obviously did. I know it’s only a blog and not a real article, but jeez. How long before I read an editorial entitled “Nick smells”, followed up by a point-by-point dissection from Mister Dale and a death-knell-of-the-Lib-Dems-because-Nick-smells opinion piece from Simon Heffer?

So it looks like that little mystery is cleared up.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

We have been for tea and sticky buns in the tippety-toppety corner of the House of Commons (up in the guttering just by the gargoyles) with the Cleggster again. This event was brought to us courtesy of the awesome organisational powers of Millennium Elephant (very impressive for a fluffy toy) and I’m going to write up most of our very enjoyable chat tomorrow (they’re getting more informal the better we get at them, which is pleasing). But I’ll make one note now on Nick Clegg’s assessment of David Cameron, in the light of this unexpected treat in the Times.

Well, Nick’s not impressed. More in sorrow than in anger, perhaps – this is allegedly the Prime Minister in waiting, after all. It’s rather reassuring to hear at first hand that the man one thinks of as being a 2-dimensional PR tosser, constrained from formulating decent policy by both his party and his own daft cocksureness, also comes across much like that in real life.

It’s also interesting to hear a leader thoughtfully dissect another man’s failings away from the bearpit of PMQs. Brown and Cameron seem to take the opposite stance – scream and jabber at each other like outraged teenagers (with apologies to teenagers everywhere) in the House but largely decline to comment on each other when they’re having lunch with the press, preferring to maintain the communal delusion that the two big parties actually still stand for two opposing “ideologies” and it is the method, and not the man, that will deliver the [insert suitable unarguable warm fuzzy word here] Britain needs.

Clegg dispatched Cameron as follows. On civil liberties? Cameron is Janus-faced – against ID cards but he wants to scrap the Human Rights Act? On foreign policy? Living in the wrong decade. On tax? Taking a tremendous risk by foregrounding the 10p band because sooner or later people are going to realise that he has no alternative policy. He has, of course, stated that he will restore the 10p band, but given that other spending commitments are being reined in with Scroogelike insistence by Shouty Plonker HQ, my suspicion is that they’re desperately hoping no-one asks them where the money will come from, and why, if they’re able to do this, they can’t promise to cut taxes across the board.

Our own 10p commitment, of course, is costed and has been for nine months; the only fault I could find with Nick’s performance at PMQs today was that he missed a golden opportunity, when Brown claimed that the Liberal [sic] party had no plans to reinstate the 10p band, to reply OH YES WE DO! Except we’d make it a 0p BAND! Here’s the costed summary – put that in your calculator and smoke it! Tcoh, why won’t he see sense and let me script his questions? Nick holds what he calls an old-fashioned belief that “ideas will out”. So do I, and I don’t think it’s old-fashioned, I think it’s so old that it’s on the cusp of becoming new again – although I could wish we were milking it a little more in our national campaigns (of which more tomorrow).

Nick also agreed with Laurence Boyce, whose question had prompted the discussion, that Cameron will be in dangerous waters with his party the moment he shows any sign of not being able to deliver. Even if we can’t probe the deep divisions in the Conservative party and expose the wormy reality behind that fluffy looking blue oak tree, it will all come out in the wash sooner or later. The loopier element of the Tories tolerate Cameron because they know in their barking heart of barking hearts that only he can make them palatable to the electorate. But they won’t maintain that truce for very long if he starts failing to fulfil his only purpose. They’ll kick him if he falters, and they’ll also kick him if they’re in a tight spot – like government, for example?

Nick also had an interesting reading of Cameron’s comments following their electoral successes on Thursday – he reckons Their Dave sees the electoral success as a double-edged sword, because it has lulled the old guard of the Tories into thinking they don’t have to change or make any further effort of any kind for government to simply fall back into their lap.

And lo! from the Times sketch comes this superb Davism which seems to underline everything Nick set out tonight about cockiness, about lack of substance and about being out of touch:

Yes, I am wealthy. I have a very well-paid job and so does my wife. But I drive my own car, I fill it up at the pumps and when diesel hits 121.9p, which I paid outside Chipping Norton a couple of weeks ago, it really struck me that this whole tank is costing me £10 to £15 more than previously.

Ironic really. Another part of our discussion focussed on how the media were never, ever going to like us and the best we can do is ignore them and reach the electorate in other ways.  Which really means we ought to take this unusual bit of Dave-bashing with a pinch of salt as well. But make hay while the Sun shines, I say.

I wanted to be Vince Cable really, but I got into it after a while. At times I even caught myself attempting the accent. Other than my impersonation of a gingery Scotsman, today’s run-through at the Beeb alongside Iain Dale and Luke Akehurst (a pair of total pussycats! Can’t imagine what all the fuss is about) for the election programme was chiefly remarkable for three things:

First, THE TABLE! THE TABLE! THE BIG RED ROUND GLASS TABLE THEY HAVE ON NEWSNIGHT AND STUFF, I SAT AT IT, YEEEEAH! It’s got all smears and scratches on it. The floor’s a bit grubby as well.

Second was David Dimbleby pretending for interview purposes not to know that Lib Dem tax policy involves cutting the basic rate and raising the personal allowance, bless his specs. I always thought the media really were wilfully ignorant about us, but apparently they just pretend to be and frame their whole line of questioning accordingly. That’s all right then.

Thirdly, and despite number two, we’re going to look good on tv. That’s because our party talking head, as you will have gathered, is Charles Kennedy (I don’t impersonate him for the fun of it, you know, and certainly never in my own time). The Tories have George Osbourne. Labour has Tessa Jowell. And never has the phrase “enough said” been more apposite than it is now about to appear, fitted like a silencer onto the end of this paragraph. Enough said.

But more important than any of that was the incidental revelation of the meedja’s expectations for us. I gather, from reading between the (great big thick) lines, that if the Lib Dems attract much less than 30% of the vote tomorrow there will be cause for much pundit headshakery over the future of Nick Clegg (who, you know, once did it with some ladies too!)

Now, given that Lib Dem commenters themselves over at LDV are generally predicting in the range 22-26% (i.e., a modest to good advance on where we are in the polls), one can’t help feeling there’s a degree of, ah, nobbling going on here. The Tories, of course, need to advance 2-3% on their current polling position to look like serious election winners (arithmetically if not intellectually). Essentially the Beeb’s position tomorrow, so it appeared to me from today, will be that anything less than an advance of 10% on where the Lib Dems are in the polls can merrily be interpreted as abject failure. Good to know where you stand, I suppose.

Yeah, well, their leader did Do It With Ladies…

Maniacally bitter humour notwithstanding, may I remind you that YOUR REPUBLIC NEEDS YOU tomorrow night, loyal citizens! results! early indicators! rumours! shocks! tears! laughter! speculation! bar charts! wild guesses! songs! poems! prose contributions! photographs of amusingly shaped vegetables that look like Boris and Ken! - all are considered for publication. Email me, facebook me (details right) or comment below or at LDV. For now, Good Night And Good Luck.

Having mounted an armed coup against the treacherous enemy pigdogs of the People’s Republic carried out protracted negotiations with our most honourable and wise comrades in the media, we are delighted to announce our takeover of BBC One. The People’s Republic will be available in live televisual form for one night only on Thursday 1st May from 11.35pm onwards at each and every half-hour or thereabouts. Free pizza and beer will be available.*

Visit Lib Dem Voice for further details. In the meantime, a small competition:

What should the Head of State say/do when the presenter tries to suggest to her that the Cleggster’s interview with Piers Moron Morgan marked a great and terrible watershed in the history of the Liberal Democrat party and a turning point in the political mores of our times? (Answers should use no more than eighteen rude sweary words per square metre and should not assume the close proximity of the free pizza as this cannot be guaranteed, although reference to glasses of water is permitted).

*To me.

Okay, so it’s Anne McElvoy, hardly a trenchant critic of the party at the worst of times, and you do have to look for the reference pretty carefully.

But I have been doing a certain amount of blubbery crying over some of the responses to Chris Huhne’s appearance in the Telegraph and Nick Clegg’s Guardian column, so I clutch gratefully onto her Evening Standard piece as one would a soggy tissue.

I did try, incidentally, to offer a perfectly calm and reasoned answer to the very sensible “why should I vote for you?” question that at the time of writing is uppermost on the Telegraph responses, but twenty-four hours later my party piece remains mysteriously lost in the Telegraph spam system…

As I continue to relentlessly chronicle my political education without thought to my sleeping pattern, no!, nor to anyone else’s attention span, the wise words of the elephant, as so often, are a guiding light.

Specifically, one of the many good points in the fluffy one’s leadership plan is as follows:

…we have terrific strength right here in the Lib Dem blogosphere for forensic analysis, pithy comment and rapid response. Let’s really USE that resource.

I have one or two embryonic ideas. They are mostly to do with using the blogs as a recruitment tool, and they mostly come from the perspective of a very recent armchair-dweller. The advantage of this is that I am more aware of the yawning gulfs of indifference beyond the active segments of all parties. The disadvantage is, clearly, that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, and I humbly prithy for better-informed – actually, just better – people to generally upgrade the standard of my whimsy. My thinking proceeds, or weaves around, as follows.

We are news now. Last week in the BBC coverage of Ming’s resignation, the blogs collectively got airtime. Granted our original entry into being “news” was undesired, but we should take a lesson from the Mingmaster’s coup, as explained by the fluffy one, and use it in our favour. They’ve identified us, rightly or wrongly, as a “force”. Obviously they’re not going to report any policy discussion. But they might report, for want of a better phrase, online stunts, particularly those that are the result of collective action. So far, the random internal Mortimer ideas generator has come up with “Why I am a liberal” post-day, an online wall for scrawling one sentence each on the theme of “what makes us different”, an actual wall for the same purpose (anyone got a wall they don’t care for?), a co-ordinated comment-invasion on a particularly stupid article once a week to which the first off the mark awards the journalist some sort of prize, conversely a regular co-ordinated descent on some worthy private blog or organisation or announcement that seems in tune with liberalism, and award them bloggers’ backing, and spamming any and all of the above at my nationals press list. But I am sure – actually I am very sure – you will have better ideas. Think the self-perpetuating nature of Facebook.

Maybe you’ve all been on the inside (of the party that is) so long that you’ve forgotten how impressive it is that the online presence is here at all, that it’s rich, and interesting, and lively, and passionate, and that not everyone works in Cowley Street, and that the newest recruit can tell the Blogger of the Year to shut up being so bloody rude (he ignored me, but I am counting that as a win. For liberalism, I mean). I found it oddly heartening when a few awkward cusses responded to Burma one-post day by arguing about how this was an attack on free speech – as that ultimate democrat Lord Vetinari (one man! one vote!) had it, progress is when men pull in different directions. We are the best advert there is for party political participation being worthwhile.

So a little self-promotion, a little pride wouldn’t go amiss. The party has an apologetic image in public that is totally belied by the thriving state of affairs online. Somewhere around the place on Lib Dem Blogs could that clever Mr Ryan do a word counter, so that every time a new post goes up it gets added to the daily total? “21,000 words today in the cause of liberalism” and could we identify ourselves collectively as “talking shop and proud”, “no-one’s throwing us out for asking awkward questions” etc?

Talking of which, a non-party member stopped by on LDV yesterday to ask a very reasonable, well-phrased and pertinent question. Put simply, it was a far more intelligent version of “What are the Lib Dems for?” Thinking about it, I’m not at all satisfied with the answer I gave. I know it wasn’t the thread for it, but we ought to be jumping on people like that who make courteous, sensible, honest requests for information, and signposting for them. That’s how messages and good impressions spread. Impatience is just smug and ghastly, I’m afraid. All the cleverest people I know got that way by asking questions – and, at first, considerably more stupid ones than that.

This made me wonder whether it mightn’t be an idea to have permanent pages on Lib Dem Voice with a few headings under a Start Here tab – “What’s our policy on nuclear power?”, “Are we left or right of centre?” etc. The stuff people actually ask, as opposed to the stuff we wish they would. These would not be copied and pasted party positions, but expositions from within the ranks – which might always include an explanation of how they fit into a coherent liberal ideology. Then people cutting their teeth or wanting basic information can post there without having to constantly google by-election results and wade through messy, offputting troll wars to work out what’s going on. I know they can go to the main party website, but it would be a nice conceit to offer them a sort of “grass-roots view” that they will perhaps be inclined to take more on trust. Can’t keep the trolls out, of course, but if their usual standards of debate are aught to go by, they’ll just make us look good.

And incidentally I’ve never seen suckers like us for feeding the trolls. If we put even a quarter of that energy into dreaming up ways to use ourselves as a party resource, into turning the blogs outwards onto the world and into courteously educating people who actually want to be educated – all of which costs the party nothing - we’d be laughing.

Even if we did all that, and it worked, we still wouldn’t be anywhere near making the fundamental shifts we need to make, as articulated by t’Quaequam. Online campaigning of any sort only reaches a certain limited sector, and one is assuming a certain mindset – okay, level of intelligence – in the punters. It changes nothing about the nature of political communication that I wrote about yesterday. But it’s a start, and a start is better than a largely non-existent grand plan.


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