Lembit’s great gamble

Anyone still caught up in Obamamania and/or mainlining chocolate biscuits to stay awake may have missed the last trio of emails from our own presidential hopefuls this morning.

Lembit’s offering, as the Guardian rightly suggests, is a gamble, not one that works on me but one I find interesting nonetheless. This is the “most candid letter you’ll ever read from a political candidate”. He has had personal problems this year, including the death of a friend, which was why his campaign didn’t kick off early enough. On the other hand, this experience has made him stronger and brought him to a new level of understanding (I should add in his defence that my summary is more emetic than his prose) as regards (a) why he is the perfect president and (b) why others have doubts about this. He appeals over the heads of those doubts as follows:

When all the pretence of normal life is stripped away by hard times, you get to know yourself better.  I’ve learned why I want to do the job of President.  I know I can reach people in a special way, to make them listen and feel listened too.  I know it comes from a motivation from deep inside me.  I don’t do it perfectly by any means, but I do have a good heart, and any errors are usually sins of omission, not sins of intent.  And the drive to serve the Party is rooted in what I feel I can do best – organising and motivating our Party to achieve great results.



And with some humility, I can tell you I’ve learned to see why some folk are concerned about my Presidency.  Some fear I’ll be unpredictable, a wild one, or too involved in a profile outside politics.  Or they think I’m too much of a joker, or a political lightweight.  Or they believe I want to be President for my own self-promotion.


To tell you the truth, I’ve been frustrated and angry with people for thinking these things about me.  But looking at it now, I realise that the right response is not to be angry, but to be a bit more empathic to these concerns… to appreciate WHY some feel this way, and try to accommodate that very natural caution within my equally natural enthusiasm and effusive optimism about the human race.


What I do is different for sure.  But I sense that it can also be an enormous asset and force for change in how we do politics, and how far out we can reach.  And that’s what I’d like to say now – to Vince, Ming, Navnit, John Shipley, and others who I’ve spoken to and thought about recently.  I respect those concerns.  If I win the election, I’ll work with you to get the best out of all of us, and to value the differences between us for the common goal and vision we share.  For me, it’s the vision of a Lib Dem Government.  It’s a journey we can only make successfully if we make it together.  But it’s also a journey we can only complete if we’re a bit braver, and embrace each other’s unique contributions.

I know what this is. It’s our old friend the people person appeal. I remember saying something very similar about Nick Clegg at the time of the leadership election – how people-people thought Clegg was the obvious choice, and systems-people thought Huhne was. Lembit’s campaign has struck me this way from the start – all his messaging has been about his own unique personality and power to motivate. His “good heart”. That was why a lot of people voted for Clegg. Lembit is one of those people who genuinely believes that being a people person can change the world. And being a people person alone, not a people person with astonishing powers of rhetoric and an awesome political organisation behind him, like Obama. Or being a people person who’s also extremely bright, focussed and free-thinking, like Clegg. And even Clegg hasn’t reversed the polls in the way people-people voting for him assumed he would. He’s just being, on the whole, a good leader – you can’t ask for more than that.

I’ve got sad nerdy news for people-people. I don’t think it would work this time either. One person can’t change the world through exuberance alone. Plenty of people who change the world are exuberant, of course, but it’s a coincident rather than causal link. Does anyone seriously doubt now that the reason Tony Blair wiped the floor with everyone and everything was that he was a ruthlessly well-organised clever bastard? That famous grin we all thought formed the stuff of his magic in 1997 was no more than a single outward symptom.

I think Lembit’s made the best stab he can at a late surge, and he’s done it playing to his strengths. No, his strengths don’t convince me, but they were never going to, and an attempt to be a less convincing version of Ros Scott would have been a worse option. This was probably his best shot, and he may yet edge it on name recognition alone. If so I just hope there are some decent systems-people in place ready to do the other half of the job for him.



  1. I liked the letter and admired him more for it (much more than I did his conspiricy paranoia)…you are right this was Lembit playing to his strengths which I admire in him but the aforementioned shows the other side to that and thats why *if* I ever get ballot papers I wont be changing my first pref to him…

  2. I have reminded myself of the irony that I voted for Clegg at least in part because Huhne had the backing of what seemed like a majority of “activists” whereas the armchair members (much more like ordinary voters) preferred Clegg. This time I’m voting for Ros because she is supported by the majority of activists. Putting it in the language of people people and systems people – I think the leader is about people, and the president about systems!

  3. Both candidates are people people (though Mark is clearly a systems person!), but Ros has made very good use of the Web. In all UK party elections so far, the contestant with the highest traditional media profile has won, but this election could just prove a turning-point.

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