Sunday, 30 November 2008

Careless talk costs lives

There's a basic rule in politics: when you're talking about things in public, you never know who might be listening.

And Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has proved that once again, by having a conversation with my local MP Danny Alexander on a flight up to Inverness in which he discussed the merits of various members of the Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet. Unfortunately, a Sunday Mirror journalist was sitting in the seat in front.

Now, all politicians gossip about their colleagues from time to time, but such conversations are usually held in private. I'm surprised and disappointed that Clegg was discussing such things in a public place, and also that Danny didn't realise the dangers of such a conversation.

And I have to say that I think their assessments of their colleagues are somewhat strange. Steve Webb has been a very effective spokesman on energy and climate change and if he is to be moved from that role, it ought to be to a more senior one. Clegg's views of him as a person shouldn't come into things, and nor should his position within the party. Indeed, the fact that Steve Webb is seen as being on the left in party terms should be a bonus, as we should be seeking to build a broadly based movement, not one skewed towards the right in party terms.

Similarly with Chris Huhne: he has been a heavy hitter as home affairs spokesman - as he was previously at environment - and I think it would be utter folly to move him at this stage. I'm also surprised at the disdain shown towards Julia Goldsworthy, whom I regard as one of the party's rising stars.

I'm also intrigued at the suggestion there may be a slot to fill as foreign affairs spokesman - Ed Davey only took the role when Clegg became leader and, although he hasn't really set the heather on fire there, he has been a significant improvement on the previous holder of that role, Michael Moore. But if there is to be a new foreign affairs spokesman, the obvious choice for that would be former leader Ming Campbell.

But I hope that when discussing these matters in future, Clegg does so in private. It does no-one any good for these sort of stories to appear in the press. Clegg needs to wise up a bit and remember the old wartime poster: "Careless talk costs lives".


Anonymous said...

"And I have to say that I think their assessments of their colleagues are somewhat strange."

Shouldn't that alarm you, that the Sunday Mirror journalist might have spiced them up?

Bernard Salmon said...

It's not impossible that might have happened, but is there any evidence to suggest that this did? The party spokesman did not say the comments were inaccurate, which rather suggests to me that they are accurate.

mhuntbach said...

Clegg bnow has two choices - sue or resign.

Bernard Salmon said...

I disagree Matthew - while this is undoubtedly damaging and may well undermine trust with his colleagues, I certainly don't see it as a resigning matter. But Clegg does have to avoid further gaffes like this or the £30 a week pension one - they do raise questions over his competence.

Anonymous said...

Bernard, I think it is unlikely that if Clegg would hate Webb enough to demote him, he would then give him a portfolio like Justice, which should be central for Lib Dems, given that it contains human rights issues.

Also, others have made some other good points. How often have you heard in an aeroplane what the person sitting behind you talks about? Maybe the journalist heard few words, and made up the rest.

And Clegg can't deny the story, because then he would have to tell which parts of it were fiction, and which weren't. And if then somebody who sat in the aeroplane would come forward and tell that he, too, heard Clegg telling the same things than the journalist, the scandal would only swell.

Bernard Salmon said...

Maybe the journalist made parts of it up, maybe he didn't, I don't think we have any way of knowing. But I think it's unlikely.

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