Friday, March 09, 2007

Stephen Tall on the Ming Speech Fallout

Stephen Tall is a Liberal blogger I hugely respect. Yes he's partisan, but aren't we all. But often he gives a really good - and independent - insight into an issue which the LibDems are struggling with. His analysis of the fallout from Ming's conference speech is spot on. Here's an extract...

Tempting as it is to scapegoat a feral press officer, the lessons from the
last week need also to be learned by those higher up. It was not Mr Littlewood
who first started speculating about the possibility of a Hung Parliament: it was
Sir Menzies in his pre-conference interview with The Times’s Peter Riddell.

And it was not Mr Littlewood’s speech which clumsily set out five tests for Labour’s Gordon Brown to prove his prime ministerial worthiness, but scornfully dismissed David Cameron’s Tories in just three words. The media can hardly be blamed for inferring that equidistance is no longer the cri de coueur of the Lib Dems. That this seemed to take the party leadership by surprise is not to their credit. It is also bad politics: as potential king-makers, it’s extra-important the party should keep, and should appear to be keeping, its options open.

Let’s remember that in Saturday’s Trident debate Sir Menzies urged the party not to commit Britain to unilateral disarmament: to do so, delegates were warned, would undermine this country’s negotiating position. I agree. Real brinksmanship requires studied neutrality.

I have largely exculpated the media of blame for the hole the Lib Dems dug ourselves last Sunday. But this debacle highlights how good political reporting has been sacrificed at the altar of fast political reporting. Once upon a time, a politician made a speech, and it was reported verbatim. Thankfully those times are long gone. This gave way to the reporting of speeches accompanied by some contextual analysis. Then, with the pressure of the rolling news agenda, copy was distributed to the media in advance of a speech. And now, not only are speeches distributed in advance, but the media allows itself to be briefed on what are the key passages, and what the speaker really means by this or that sentence. The result is that the media has given up listening to the content of speeches, or analysing them with detached objectivity: instead, all is viewed through the prism of the briefing. Journalists’ deadlines are more frenetic than ever: anything that isn’t encapsulated within the ‘Breaking News’ ticker-tape is old news. Being first matters more than being right. Sunday’s debacle was wholly avoidable; that it wasn’t avoided is the Lib Dems’ fault, and our problem. But it also says much about today’s political climate - the interaction of journalists, media officers and politicians - that what controversy there was at conference centred not on the policies passed, but rather on a disputed
behind-the-scenes briefing about a speech.

You can read the whole post HERE. Jonny Wright also has a good post on the subject of the LibDems and a hung Parliament.


Ralph said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Stephen Tall is, of course totally right (as he often is). His article is written in Guardian-speak, however.

In tabloid-speak, Ming's speech was a bit of an arse. A pantomime horse going nowhere or possibly both ways at once. The Lib Dem press department, such that it is, didn't seem to be massing to tell the dumb journalists what the spin was MEANT to be (which was to tell boy Gordon that he could NEVER meet these five challenges so there were no deals on offer), so the hapless Littlewood ended up busking on his own with a pile of twaddle about proportional representation. What else do you expect from someone who joined the pro-euro Conservatives? God knows who staffed (stuffed?) the Lib Dem leader's office with such dross. Perhaps it was a Cameroonie mole?

Don J said...

If Stephen "exculpate"'d a little less, and "don't blame"'d a little more, he might lose the respect of his SCR but gain a wider audience.

He rarely talks anything but good sense (which said, a good sub-editor wouldn't hurt). Having travelled from Labour to his current billet, he should brace himself for the final leap to NuCon, along with some of his Orange mates.

He'd be a great acquisition; decency and intellectual ballast are not easy to come by these days. Come on Iain, fix him a lunch with Boris, forthwith!

Anonymous said...

off thread
Just read your Telegraph piece re Blair and Cameron. How depressing for you, your visit to the states. I was there recently, Republican or Democrat they look upon Blair as real hero, mention Cameron, (those who have heard of him) think he's a total s**t.

Tom Tyler said...

From what I read of USA bloggers, Anon 10:35 is right re Blair. A lot of Americans have no knowledge or interest in Blair's home policies (and why should they?), they simply (and rightly) see him as a solid ally of Bush re the war on terror, and so Blair is perceived as a hero.
I haven't read anything much about how Cameron is perceived, though.

Tom Tyler said...

Getting back to the topic of the post, I have to admit that this has all been very enlightening and educating for me, as a non-politico.
My first reaction to the furore over Sir Menzies' speech was "that's all very well, Iain, analysing the speech to death, poring over its meaning and implications, but will the ordinary Lib-Dem voter on the street be bothered to suss it all out in the same way, and will they realise what the speech meant? Surely those who are going to vote Lib-Dem will vote Lib-Dem anyway, and they will not be fussed by the nuances of this speech?"

Then I reconsidered, and I realised that politics in Britain is essentially a two-horse race. It's the Tories versus Labour, all the way. Vast swathes of the electorate will not bother to read the manifestos nor the policy documents; they will vote Lab or Con from gut instinct, because "Labour is the only true working man's party" or else because "Socialism is dangerous and the free market works best", or whatever. In other words, most people will vote for the broad idea of either socialism or conservatism. Most people can make a choice between two broadly opposing ideologies, but being faced with multiple options is far more tricky.

But what do the Lib-Dems stand for? What is their big ideology? I don't know. It strikes me therefore that if you vote Lib-Dem, you're more likely to be politically aware, a thinker, a strategist perhaps, than those who vote Con/Lab. People will vote Lib-Dem tactically, to keep one of the other parties out, rather than because they strongly believe in Lib-Demism, whatever that might be.
Realising this, I see the importance of Menzies' speech, and that their voters will indeed pick up on its implications.

I'm floating between voting UKIP or Con at the next election. Sorry to say it, but Cameron has got a heck of a job on his hands to convince me to vote Con, and he seems to be losing the argument more as each month goes by, in my mind. I would never vote Labour, but I won't vote Con simply on the grounds that they're not Labour, I need better reasons than that.

Anonymous said...

Hilton and Dave should study this followed by a very careful reading of Simon Heffer in the DT.

Trumpeter Lanfried said...

Pre-briefing can be quite a laugh sometimes. For example, "In a speech this afternoon the [insert name] is expected to say [insert quote] etc, etc."

Then, sometimes, he doesn't say it after all. But by that time the journalists are too busy to notice, because they are all too busy working out what someone else is "expected to say" tomorrow.