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".
A walk through Montpelier, Bristol
2 months ago