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Leaks, damn leaks and assassins

9 Jan

Amidst all the discussion of Charles Kennedy’s removal as Liberal Democrat leader in recent days, little has been said about the campaign to force his resignation.

On the one hand, it was a triumphantly successful whispering campaign. Triumphant in that it achieved its objective whilst largely concealing the identities of the assassins (because there were so many: ‘et tu Brute’). Ever since the anticipated departure was leaked to Andrew Neil’s late night political programme before Christmas, the pressure had been mounting on Kennedy. In the event, it became a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Yet two dangers remain. One is of a backlash by party members (who should have a vote for Kennedy’s successor) against the conspirators. If the favourite (Menzies Campbell) becomes implicated in the plot, then there will surely be a swing against him.

The other is a reaction by the electorate at large. The appeal of the Liberal Democrats has largely been that they’re not Labour and not the Conservatives; unsullied by national power, they have been seen as a principled, even ‘nice’, party. This act of ruthlessness sends a confusing signal and they are sure to suffer in the polls.

In a few years time, I predict that Charles Kennedy will be held in rather higher esteem.

The drugs question

16 Oct

On The Message on Friday, Anne Gregory and others gave the opinion that ‘truth will out’ and that David Cameron would be well advised to make a statement to clear up the suspicion about his possible past involvement in hard drugs. I don’t agree.

There’s no right answer to the question ‘did you take drugs as a student?’. ‘No’, if truthful, would seem the best position. But Conservative politicians are keenly aware of the experience of William Hague: fashionably unprivileged upbringing in South Yorkshire, outstanding academic mind (Oxford First), bright McKinsey consultant, brilliant performer in Parliament. So bright, so political, such a prodigy that he did not communicate well with the people who held his future in their hands in the polling station. William Hague would have benefited from appearing to have a more ‘normal’ past – though he was ridiculed for the baseball cap and the story about drinking 14 pints. Sometimes you can try too hard.

If the drugs question is answered, then what answer do you give to these: Have you ever driven over the speed limit in a built-up area? Did you have pre-marital sex? Have you had an extra-marital affair? Do you pick your nose in private? The last one is ridiculous, but it makes a point. If the answer given is ‘no’, then we suspect you’re lying. And picture editors will pay good money for the image that seems to prove it. You’re inviting further intrusion into your privacy. Is ‘yes’ a better answer, then? It establishes that you’re willing to give a straight answer to any question that’s asked of you, so the chase is back on to find a question that would embarrass you. Don’t go there.

Who’d be a politician? And do we want to be represented only by saints and the sanctimonious? How did Bill Clinton survive the public shredding of his private affairs and get re-elected in a nation with a strong Puritan tendency? In Spin Cycle, Howard Kurtz tells the compelling story of PR under pressure in the Clinton White House.

A lord, not a god

10 May

Great name, interesting career. Andrew Adonis has completed his political rise through elevation to the House of Lords, allowing him to serve as a government minister.

I recall him as an Liberal Democrat Oxford city councillor. For a fuller account of his changing career and political allegiances, I’m impressed how up-to-the-minute his Wikipedia entry is.

Political PRs

5 May

There’s a UK general election today (and county council elections also). A colleague has spent the last two days in a helicopter touring marginal constituencies, though he’s back in time to assess student presentations today.

I’m aware of two PR consultants who are standing for parliament. Clive Booth of Lewis PR in York; and Ed Vaizey in Wantage. The latter seems ashamed of his PR background, preferring instead to state that he was a partner of a ‘small business’ who works as a freelance journalist. Both are Conservatives though you can find PR consultants actively campaigning for all three main parties.

Later: ePolitix has a fuller account of the advent of many aides and advisers.

Later still: How could I forget Rob Wilson, a former consultancy colleague who has just become an Conservative MP?

The rise of single issues

16 Mar

Here’s one paradox: the rise in single issue activism goes together with a decline in party political membership and election turnout. Here’s another paradox: the question whether it’s the role of the media to report events or to set the agenda for public opinion.

Kirsty Milne addresses these issues in an analysis piece in yesterday’s Guardian and in a free Demos publication to be launched tomorrow.

These topics were also addressed in a report from the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology: The Great GM Food Debate published in 2000.

Speechwriter to schoolteacher

7 Feb

Peter Hyman’s description of his move from heading the 10 Downing Street strategic communications unit to teaching in an inner-city school is a media talking point today.

There’s an extract in The Guardian (free subscription) containing a riveting description of what it’s like to work on a Prime Minister’s keynote speech at a party conference.