What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

August 01, 2007

So, how many Lib Dems did the BBC phone to get an anti-Ming quote?

On BBC Radio 4’s The World at One this lunch-time, the programme featured an end-of-term report on the Lib Dems - how the party’s doing, how Ming Campbell’s doing. And, in particular, if the Lib Dems would do better under a new leader.

I knew it was happening because I received an e-mail this morning from one of the BBC’s WatO producers asking to speak to me. Other Lib Dem bloggers got the same e-mail. Then the BBC phoned me, and asked me some questions to gauge my perceptions of the party’s fortunes at the moment.

I answered, giving - I hope - a reasonably fair-minded picture. Yes, a few Lib Dems are distinctly unimpressed by Ming’s leadership, though the Ealing Southall and Sedgefield by-elections have settled some nerves. But I don’t detect any mood among the vast majority of activists or members in favour of a second defenestration in as many years. Most of us (I think) would regard that as (i) destructively counter-productive; and (ii) a pointless distraction.

I suspect those sentiments kaiboshed my hopes of appearing on WatO. What they wanted was a Lib Dem activist who would be content to go on the record calling for Ming to go. (I guess they knew they wouldn’t find an MP, a tribute at least to Ming’s leadership of the Parliamentary party.) Lib Dem blogger and Federal Policy Committee member, Linda Jack, stepped up to the plate.

No reason why she shouldn’t, and Linda has staunchly defended her decision to do so on Lib Dem Voice here. She’s just as entitled to call for a new leader - and she did it in the nicest possible way, I should add - as I am to view the prospect with a queasily sinking stomach.

But, equally, it’s only fair to ask: how many Lib Dems did the BBC speak to, and how many agreed with Linda’s assessment? Was her view one the BBC felt, having spoken to a number of us, best represented the membership; or was it that her view best fitted the BBC’s pre-ordained agenda?

Because this gets to the heart of journalistic balance, of real impartiality. Was the BBC’s aim truly to take the temperature of the party, or was it simply to whip up a mini-storm-in-a-teacup? Call me a cynic, but I suspect the latter.

Yesterday, I posted an article to Lib Dem Voice attacking the media’s obsession with personality politics, in part a response to the depressingly juvenile reporting of David Cameron’s recent woes: “Mr Cameron needn’t worry so much,” I wrote, next month it’ll be someone else’s turn.”

For “next month” read “next day”.

I went on to argue that the media’s fixation on the personal-cult of leadership, as opposed to the hard-graft of policy-making and the tough choices of decision-taking, is the public’s fault; that we prefer the froth of soap opera to the steel of current affairs. In their comments, Paul Walter and Leo Watkins more optimistically suggested the British public is more high-minded than I gave credit for. I’d like to believe they were right.

But when I come to compile the Lib Dems’ Top of the Blogs Golden Dozen this weekend, I can make a pretty shrewd guess which will have been the most popular postings on the Lib Dem blogs Aggregator - those focusing on whether Ming might be for the chop.


Paul Walter said...

I see that even Nich Starling's comments metaphorically fell onto the cutting room floor. He was obviously too optimistic about the by-election results.

This happened with the Politics Show about a month ago. They rang several bloggers including me and subjected us to "twenty questions". Those who were far far too positive (me) were politely thanked and chucked into the bin while they managed to get dear old James wheeled on to say something, I suspect, very intelligent (didn't see it but I trust that James always makes intelligent observations).

Full marks to Linda Jack for speaking out, although I don't agree with her and I think Ming actually does have leadership skills. I really like Linda's blog and it is marvellous to read and hear from such a spirited individual!

But if the BBC WATHO! have to resort to someone on the FPC, not even the Federal Executive, and someone who used to be a councillor and used to be a PPC (plus a councillor who asked not to be named) and who gave some very very mild comments at the last minute, then, my goodness, with great respect to Linda, whose blog I greatly enjoy and who I greatly respect, there must have been quite a lot of heavy sighing in the editorial suite of WATHO! this lunchtime and they must have headed down to the pub with a relatively heavy heart!

PS Full marks to Vince Cable - what a brilliant man - in sharp contrast to that Mr Cameron who poured parafin on his party fire!

Paul Walter said...

On the wider media point you are making, Stephen, bear in mind this fundamental fact.

The newspapers and the media have to make a profit - in the case of the BBC they sort of have to show that they are doing something.

The newspapers usually have the same amount of pages to fill all year round.

The TV and radio and online outlets have the same amount of time to fill or web space to fill all year round.

For example, news bulletins in the height of political activity in, say, mid-October are the same length as those in August - with very few exceptions.

So what happens? Well, er, in October the news bulletins are full of interesting stuff and in August they are full of what one might politely call "fillers".

Does the public take any notice of all these machinations?

Well, bear in mind that the audience for news and politics programmes is fairly minuscule. In August, the viewership, readership, listenership and hitship of the various media goes south in a serious way.

What does actually matter is the way politicians respond to all this nonsense. David Cameron on Today yesterday responded in the wrong way - he aggravated the whole thing which was absolutely stupid and totally misjudged.He poured parafin on his party's fire.

Whereas Vince Cable on WATHO! gave an object lesson in how to beautifully smother the thing with the political equivalent of halon gas (sucks all the oxygen out of a fire in a computer room).

Duncan Borrowman said...

More importantly, if you want to be a credible media tart learn that WatO has no 'H' in it! :-)

Paul Walter said...

Dearest Duncan, bless you! First of all I certainly don't want to be a media tart, credible or otherwise! Like you, I used to work in broadcasting (although in a much smaller capacity than your good self) and I don't want to go there again. Secondly, I am afraid I am guilty of obscurity, as usual. I was trying to turn it into the Wodehousian "What Ho!" (WAT HO) with, obviously, not much success. It was pathetic, I know.

Duncan Borrowman said...

I have only ever heard it pronounced in a wodehousian way...

My comment on media targeting was pointed at stephen's readers, not your good self :-)

Paul Walter said...

Oh! That one went over my head at the speed of a cartel subsidised BA jet! Sorry Duncan.