Thursday, March 29, 2007

Careless Talk Costs Defections

I have another column in the Telegraph today, which you can read in full HERE. This is an excerpt...

Two years ago, Mark Oaten - then a rising star in the Liberal Democrats - told a leading Conservative that his party's generation was hungry for power and would go out and seek it. He had just published The Orange Book with his political soulmate David Laws, and was taken aback by the opprobrium from Left-of-centre Liberal Democrats. It was at that point that some of the Orange Bookers started to think long term; several found the prospect of 20 years on the Lib Dem benches a pretty soul-destroying prospect and their policy positions on many issues - tax, welfare reform and public services - were not poles apart from those adopted by liberal Conservatives.

Oaten came very close to defecting to the Conservatives in the autumn of 2005. As Lib Dem home affairs spokesman he was frustrated by the party's opposition to his tougher approach on crime, and, in particular, terrorism: but the Tories were choosing a leader and Oaten's bargaining position was weak, so he stayed put. David Cameron nearly claimed his first scalp two months into his leadership. Rumours had been swirling around Westminster of an imminent Lib Dem defection. I wrote on my blog that David Laws was about to jump ship. It was then that I received a phone call from someone close to the Cameron set who asked if I could tone it down a little as things were "at a delicate stage".

If Laws is to be believed, George Osborne's attempt to lure him across - then, or later - was less a political seduction than a "wham bam, thank you ma'am". Laws has been telling Tory MPs this week that Osborne asked abruptly, without any political foreplay, whether he wanted to defect or not. He was so taken aback that he spluttered "not".

In a GMTV interview at the weekend, Osborne confirmed that he had held discussions with Laws and was also talking to Labour MPs. The first rule of political defections is that you not only keep any discussions secret from your own side, you don't talk about them on television either. Afterwards, Osborne knew he had made a mistake, but the damage had been done.

The Tories and Lib Dems are becoming allies of convenience on issues where they have common ground. Nick Clegg, the Lib Dems Home Affairs Spokesman and leader-in-waiting, has been astonished at how similar his views are to those of David Davis, whom he had previously regarded as a hardline Right-winger. Cameron confidante Ed Vaizey has been deputed to cosy up to the Lib Dems. His recent trip to the Arctic Circle with Nick Clegg may not have resulted in a defection, but eight hours a night in an igloo can hardly have failed to bring them closer.

The Cameron inner circle ought to remember the Second World War maxim: careless Talk Costs Lives," except they should replace the "lives" with "defections".

UPDATE: More councillors defect to Tories HERE.


Anonymous said...

Wow, whatever the machinations, you must be glad you didn't end up with Oaten having his receding hairline crisis having just switched sides.

Great article, though do you think it really goes down well zmongst h voters to see defections being actively coerced rather than offered as an issue of political conscience?

Do it because you believe in the other party, not because you are trying to see which way the wind's blowing and want to be on the winning team. Naive? Maybe, but too much of this looks grubby and self-serving.

Mischeivous postscript, and I quote "It was then that I received a phone call from someone close to the Cameron set who asked if I could tone it down a little." Is that what happened today with the Cameron Lunch Club? Probably cheaper than the Bullingdon.

Great article.

Nich Starling said...

I doubt it, and I know more about their actic trip Iain than you do.

Nich Starling said...

Two things occur to me in hindsight.

1) In late 2005 most Lib Dems I know would have been pleased to see Oaten in the Tories as his views struck a chord with no Lib Dems that I know.

2) If you were asked to keep the noise down when there was an imminent defection, your "noise" at the moment indicates the complete opposite to what you are claiming now.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of careless talk......Blears on QT "people are smarter than WE give them credit for"

I am appalled that someone who cannot string a sentence together, makes no sense anyway and lies through her teeth can be in a senior position in politics.

The programme confirms my thoughts in that;

Labour will lose the next election in a massive way

UKIP will achieve nothing as a fringe party despite their views being very popular

corruption in the Labour party is frightening - 'we only brought casinos in to regulate internet gambling' says blears!

The Tory Party needs a swift right turn as the ONLY danger to them forming the next government is a continuation of their march into mid ground mumble non-policies

The public mood is receptive to more right wing policies so give it to them

Daily Referendum said...

There are too may Liberals in the Labour and Conservative parties already. If you have mostly Liberal views you should be in the Liberal Party. How many Liberals are skulking in other parties purely because the party they should be in will never gain power?

Tapestry said...

Politicians are very nervous talking directly to each other across party lines - for obvious reasons. There should be an agency/broker handling the early beginnings of their relationship, where each side can be assured that the other is negotiating genuinely and not to score short term points by accusing the others of becoming defectors.

Praguetory said...

It is inappropriate to talk about defections unless they are signed, sealed and delivered. It's embarassing enough that these overtures are in the public, but far worse are the sordid details of the cack-handed seduction techniques. They should get someone with your tact and charm on the case, Mr Dale.

Anonymous said...

Iain don't you feel that by putting the possible imminent defection into the public domain as you did in the article and blog that it might have scared someone off?

Just a thought

Paul Evans said...

his political soulmate David Laws

What drivel! Laws and Oaten have very little in common. Laws is a thoughtful social and economic liberal and Oaten is a populist twit.

Sabretache said...

"...several found the prospect of 20 years on the Lib Dem benches a pretty soul-destroying prospect"

Oh dear! - and in the Telegraph too! Even if you really were intending to emphasise 'pretty soul-destroying' in that construction and even though arguably technically allowable, it does read rather awkwardly don't you think?. Why not simply substitute 'one' for the second 'soul-destroying'? or better still remove 'a' and 'prospect' from 'a pretty soul-destroying prospect'?

Oh the tyranny of English grammar pedantry.

Anonymous said...

Osbourne is an idiot. Anybody can see that talking about that sort of thing is totally counter productive. And he is the shadow chancellor. Doh.

Talking of careless talk...aren't you treading on dodgy ground. I take it that you heeded the person close to the Cameron set, yet once again you are blowing the issue open again.

Once again vanity coming to the fore perhaps

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 1.15 - there is little point in roughing up Blair, since he is a busted flush, the public know it and will largely discount it.

Expect to see things going the way you (and I) would wish once there is a new Labour Leader - you may not be too unhappy at the direction that will be taken by Cameron.

Like him or loathe him, he has done the right thing by preparing the ground before starting his major onslaught.

Anonymous said...

Oaten is a PR merchant sitting for a "naturally Conservative" seat (whose voters had previously been annoyed by a series of bad Tory MPs). So of course Oaten has right wing views to mollify his Tory constituents, but if he had defected he would have pleased no-one, which is probably why it didn't happen.

rosscoe_peco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Newmania said...

Much much better Iain you are on your core subject I feel which is gossip and the detailed history of the political scene. I have speculated at times whether your sanguine attitude to the horror of PR was because the idea of a court of whispering Westminster insiders actually machinating like Byzantine eunuchs actually appeals to you. This article was tremendously informative and I cannot imagine that anyone else could have written it . You also sneaked in a couple Dalesque of gags

1 Poltical Foreplay
2 Comic Igloo reference

Both add a dusting of titter to the cake to good effect and all in all infinitely better than most of the DT regulars . I see Praguetory is fulsome in his praise and in a similar spirit of a Labour back bencher praising the gay Gordon can I add my own Brown nosing panegyric

( cue cut a and paste all purpose praise randomiser)

A glittering triumph, Dale has climbed a greasy Pole (his name is Jacek ) a sumptuous sensory explosion of delights ,I sighed, I swooned .

Read it and die

rosscoe_peco said...

I think the tories are propably greatful not to have got the coprophiliac Oaten and his receeding hairline.

Careless talk saves scandal!

Anonymous said...

I detect a bit of despair in the tory ranks. Iain 'sherpa' Dale has failed miserably to attract defections. The 'once a year' flight tax has bombed bigtime.

I predict no net tory gains in the local elections (including Scotland and Wales) north of the Severn/Wash line.

So much for the 'one nation' tories

Newmania said...

Good point Daily referendum can you imagine being stuck in an enclosed party atmosphere with such smelly old wets as Norfolk with his delicately attuned victim complex. To be fair, although the Liberal Party are liars by nature ( having no beliefs ). It is posibly that one or two might pretend to be something they are not for so long that the sense of it might be irresistable.
Perhaps some of them eventually pass from the prolonged adolescence of " I am good"

To the adult questions" What is Good "
" How do I achieve it "

A Damascene conversion to membership of the Conservative Party must soon follow

Anonymous said...

This whole story just shouts desperation!! Tories have clearly worked out they cannot win elections so will try to get defections - except they loose councillors quicker than they can gain them in the old defection game!

Ralph said...

I do worry about the Tories some times when they see an Oaten defection as a good thing.

Paul Evans said...

To be fair, although the Liberal Party are liars by nature ( having no beliefs )

In 1866 John Stuart Mill wrote "I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative". I wasn't sure that this the case until I stumbled upon you. Well done.

Iain Dale said...

Ralph, at the time, it would have been seen as a very good thing. Later, well...

Anonymous said...

Your problem is that the LibDems were never the easy route to power. People who joined them at the start of their careers are unlikely to jump merely because the Tories smile at them. Personally I think free market Tories defecting to UKIP, or a new party in Scotland, is more likely.

PR is also an issue which virtually all LDs agree is a touchstone of both democracy & better government - I do not see that any of them could be comfortable having to adopt a whip which would make them vote against it.

Anonymous said...

"His recent trip to the Arctic Circle with Nick Clegg may not have resulted in a defection, but eight hours a night in an igloo can hardly have failed to bring them closer."

And who wouldn't want to spend 8 hrs in an igloo with Nick Clegg ! Just as well it wasn't Mark Oaten or it may well have resulted in a defec@tion..

Anonymous said...

"How blogging works" Pt 1

'It was then that I received a phone call from someone close to the Cameron set who asked if I could tone it down a little as things were "at a delicate stage".'

Anonymous said...

One can only wonder whether there is any link between political foreplay technique and..hmm..let's not go there...mind you maybe the ladies involved would prefer to get it over with quickly...

Anonymous said...

Go on, Iain, confess - have you been checking out your place on digital Telegraph's chart ? You'd have a way to go to knock Bozza off the top spot but this is very good work, so at least you've got him looking over his shoulder - and that's tricky when you're on a bike...

Peter from Putney said...

Based on current opinion poll results, Electoral Calculus is projecting that the LibDems' representation in the HoC at the next GE will fall by almost 2/3rds, i.e. from the present 64 seats to just 23.
Although this would seem very unlikely to be the case,such a prospect must be disturbing a number of their MPs and it wouldn't therefore be too surprising to see a couple of defections from their ranks, but I suspect these would be much more likely to occur closer to polling day and the Tories may not necessarily be the beneficiaries.

Newmania said...

Dynamite I shan`t accept your kind invitation to a game of ad hominem ping pong. On the contrary delight in the soufflĂ© of wit you bear proudly to the table .JS Mill said …I thought …now I know … another bit ...magnificent.!!

Paul Evans said...

Sorry if you got a bit baffled there. Perhaps something closer to your level?


Anonymous said...

The feeling I'm getting from your analysis is that the Lib Dems could form a Government with the Tories because of concensus.

The Tories could gain the advantage here by sneaking power by the backdoor riding on a National concensus Government of Liberalism.

This Could be the saviour of Modern one Nation Conservatism and the end of the hated Thatcherism of late.

The big issue here is that it would kill the Liberal Democrats and liberalism would be just a historical term for bookworms as it ceses to exist for future Generations.

I wouldn't bet on this outcome.

A reintroduction of earnings and pension along with automatic rights to 40 years National Insurance contributions will see Labour win any election based upon tossing the coin choice candidates.

you have been warned.

Newmania said...

Mr. Dynamite . - Peeved?

…..And rumplestiltskin hopped from foot to in such a rage he turned quite puce…..

tsk tsk and I was so nice about your little joke to.

Paul Evans said...

Newmania, no I just thought your comment was profoundly moronic. Also, I think you mean "too". Gosh, I can spot that despite being educated under a Tory Government!

David Lindsay said...

Not for the first time, I feel bound to ask: what is it about the Tories that now makes them remotely attrcative to anyone in the Lib Dems (or New Labour)? Think on that.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to question and contrast your softly, softly approach with that of Nick Robinson.

You're goal is to openly support the Conservative Party and you even have the integrity to say when you have strayed close to their boundries.

Nick Robinson isn't so open about his goals. Whilst his intentions may not be to support the Labour Party his self-confessed softly-softly actions do.

Any professional should distinguish between actions and intentions in their stories. Between killing and murder. Nick clearly places himself above these things - which of course to the rest of us means he is below them.

Anonymous said...

norfolk blogger - don't come here with half a story. either tell us what you know, or shut the f@*k up.

neil craig said...

I would like to see a realignment of British politics around classic liberalism - such a movement would probably have more space for Margaret Thatcher, who is on record as saying she is a 19thC liberal rather than a conservative, than Simon Hughes & certainly more than most of the single issue greens who adorn the LDs. However I don't believe that this can be done by an unreconstructed Conservative party committed to an authoritarian electoral system which is clearly always going to disenfrachise most voters.

Newmania said...

With enviable suave urbanity Dynamite softly purred …….
Silvery laughter rang around the salon…..”

Oh right you are Dynamite goodness knows how I misread that. You won’t believe this , but just for a moment there I thought you were a tragically insecure loon who had confused squawking like a child with responding. How silly

All better now

David Anthony said...

Sometimes the chattering classes really remind me of this colourful pair... (anyone good at Photoshop faces?) ;)

Anonymous said...


Iain Dale must be psychic for today a defection was announced. Yes another elected Conservative Councillor defected in Torbay - the second in two weeks. There have been so many defections there from the Tories that some have wondered if this was a Tory masterplan to take over the local party!
Well done Iain.

Anonymous said...

newmania / dynamite - can you p!$$ off onto your own blogs if you just want to have a tiff so the rest of us don't have to be irritated by you couple of prats. Thank you muchly.

Newmania said...

Wonking- to be fair the Libs are unsettled at the best of times . I think you are right thought . The Liberal Party may be irrelevant now but in fact this irrelevance is permanent. I have never managed to work out what are the core principles behind the whole thing and mostly it seems to be a protest of one sort or another but a protest of numerous different hues. Is it a high tax or low tax Party , who knows , is it a law and order Party who knows, is it for business or against it , take your pick ? Generally it does seem to worry about the security of the country less than both the other Parties but then that is easily done from nowhere Locally it has run racist campaign s, homophobic campaigns , famously , right campaigns and left campaigns .

Can you understand how the vast Majority of the country who think the Liberal party is more of a hobby than anything are defeated by this lack of principle good or bad.
This being the case the Liberals profit from general disenchantment and should be doing well now . The fact they are doing quite so badly reflects a historic realisation aided by technology and communications that a loose geographically split alliance of oddments is not the same thing as a political Party and can have nothing to offer.

Anon said- Anon can I correct a slight error there . You have inadvertently included me in your wise words .Otherwise I quite agree.

Oh except if you would be so kind as to keep your auto-erotically inclined brown-nosed dreary flatulence to yourself in the futue that would be nice .


Anonymous said... hit there, newmania !

Paul Evans said...

Newmania, it's a pity that I have to ask you, a man more than two decades my senior, to grow up, but regrettably, it is necessary. If you say something that silly, you cannot expect it to remain unchallenged.

David Lindsay said...

Well, Neil Craig, I too would like to see a realignment, but based, first, on the conservation or restoration (as the overwhelming majority of Britons wishes) of such good things as national self-government (the only basis for international co-operation, and including the United Kingdom as greater than the sum of its parts), local variation, historical consciousness, family life, the whole Biblical and Classical patrimony of the West (as professed at least by the seventy-two per cent of Britons who described themselves as Christians in the most recent census), agriculture, manufacturing, small business, close-knit communities, law and order, civil liberties, academic standards, all forms of art, mass political participation within a constitutional framework, and respect for the absolute sanctity of each individual human life from the point of fertilisation to the point of natural death.

Based, secondly, on the recognition that, far from being conservative, the "free" market capitalism corrodes all of these to nought, both directly and by driving despairing millions into the arms of equally corrosive Jacobinism, Marxism, anarchism or Fascism.

Based, thirdly, on the recognition that, just as one cannot logically oppose the decadent social libertinism deriving from the 1960s without also opposing the decadent economic libertinism deriving from the 1980s (or vice versa), and just as one cannot logically oppose the European Union's erosion of our self-government and culture without also opposing that by global capital and by American hegemony (or vice versa), so likewise one cannot logically oppose the unrestricted movement of people without also opposing that of goods, services and capital (or vice versa).

Based, fourthly, on the recognition that liberty, equality and fraternity are inseparable from nationhood, family and property, since liberty (the freedom to be virtuous, and to do anything not specifically proscribed) is inseparable from equality (the means to liberty, and never to be confused with mechanical uniformity), thus from fraternity (the means to equality), thus from nationhood (a space in which to be unselfish), thus from family (the nation in miniature, where unselfishness is first learnt), and thus from property (each family's safeguard both against over-mighty commercial interests and against an over-mighty State, and therefore requiring to be as widely diffused as possible), which is the guarantor of liberty as here defined.

Based, fifthly, on the recognition th at Marxists, including neoconservatives, are correct that the family, private property and the State have a common origin, with each absolutely necessary in order to maintain the other two; but Marxists, including neoconservatives, are wrong to see this as a bad thing, and therefore to desire the withering away of the State, which they know would be the withering away of the family and of private property, and which they want precisely for that wicked reason.

The neoconservatives (including David Cameron and Tony Blair, the former's "liberal-conservatism" being a distinction without a difference) do in fact recognise all of this, but they follow Leo Strauss in hiding their true views from the electorate. We must be determined to expose them, and to defeat them.

And therefore based, sixthly, on the strongest possible support for the universal and comprehensive Welfare State (including, for example, farm subsidies), and in the strong statutory and other (including trade union) protection of workers, consumers, communities and the environment, the former delivered by the partnership between a strong Parliament and strong local government, the whole paid for by progressive taxation, and all these good things underwritten by full employment.

We must work to ensure that there is a candidate of at least broadly these views in every constituency at the next General Election, already very likely to result in a hung Parliament with all its possibilities for consequent realignment. We must call on the British People to vote for such candidates, and only such, regardless of party (if any).

This movement could reach at least half of the 34% that consistently says that it is not going to vote at the next General Election.

Indeed, it must do so, in order to save Britain.

Anonymous said...

Anon: Your frustration with the 'Norfolk blogger'is more than justified.

I read his blog for some time and because he seemed to be speaking for the Tories, Labour and Liberals (presumably the Democrats to boot)I felt quite justified to be sea sick.
An awful feeling of nausea.

I was lost and felt very lonely not being able to decipher such a myriad of thought that just couldn't possibly add up in the real world.

In politics, you either are, or you are not. Very simple and easy to understand. You don't even have to toe the party line, just be honest.

A nice attempt at a blog but leaves people confused.
I gather he is leaving politics maybe because people just stare back at him with blanc expressions.
No offence intended.

the joker said...

Didn't the Conservative Part think something was strange when Oaten was making initial pre negotiations for his glass coffee table to defect to the Tories first?

Newmania said...

DINOSAUR SAID-If you say something that silly, ..blah blah ...wiff of wounded pride
But it has been and remains so . (Every pompous plodding word you write screams politics student by the way. The revelation was redundant.)

Paul Evans said...

Law graduate actually. As perceptive as you are funny.