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.
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