What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

September 25, 2007

Iain's little list

Iain Dale has now published the official list of the top 100 Lib Dem blogs, and I’m runner-up - and I can think of few bloggers against whom I’m more happy to run up than Jonathan Calder’s Liberal England. He is indeed the Lib Dem blogfather.

Here’s what Iain wrote about me, myself and I:
Stephen Tall has emerged in the last twelve months as a key player in the Liberal Democrat blogosphere. His own A Liberal Goes a Long Way blog won last year’s Liberal Democrat blog of the year, awarded by the Libdems at their party conference, and he has become a familiar face as the LibDem blogger who most appears on the media. Recently he has taken over as commissioning editor of LibDem Voice, which, it is to be hoped, does not see a decline in his own blog. Stephen is not one to write short snappy posts. He has an erudite, if sometimes academic, style, which means that his posts have a clear beginning, middleand end. He’s a blogger who makes the reader think about their own position on an issue, and you can hardly pay a higher compliment than that.
It is of course more than possible that my involvement with Lib Dem Voice has seen a decline in the quality of both blogs.

One of the chapters which appears in Iain’s eponymous Guide To Political Blogging In The UK is written by me, and focuses on the state of Lib Dem blogging. Or, perhaps more accurately, looks at the state of blogging through a Lib Dem prism. (Sorry, Iain - are references to geometric shapes too academic?)

Anyway, if you want to buy it, you can do so by clicking on this Amazon link - in which case you’ll earn the Lib Dems some commission, an irony I’m sure Iain will enjoy.


The state of Lib Dem blogging in the UK

Anyone still harbouring the hackneyed view that Liberal Democrats are a bunch of equivocating well-on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other nicebodies, who wouldn’t say boo to an organic free-range goose, should visit www.libdemblogs.co.uk.

There you will find aggregated each day for your reading pleasure the opinionated postings of over 130 Lib Dems, displaying a frenetic range of topic, content and style. Punchy op-ed commentary on the big national and international issues of the day nestles alongside tales of potholes, pedestrian crossings and planning applications in Coketown.

It is emblematic of Lib Dem thinking that this should be so: the local and global are too intrinsically intertwined for it not to be. Indeed, the Lib Dem blogs ‘Aggregator’ is itself a signature of liberalism: diverse individual thinking finding strengthened expression through a collective community venture.

A year ago, at our 2006 conference in Brighton, the Lib Dems became the first national party to recognise the blogging fraternity - and it is a fraternity; the scarcity of women unhealthily skews the blogosphere - launching an inaugural ‘Blog of the Year’ award, which earned national media coverage.

But, in fact, it was eight months earlier that Lib Dem blogs first made their mark, during the leadership contest sparked by Charles Kennedy’s resignation. The momentum and profile of initial-outsider Chris Huhne’s campaign was boosted by declarations of support from some leading Lib Dem bloggers, inspiring a ‘Bloggers for Huhne’ section on his campaign website. Ever since, the party has taken increasing time and effort to reach out to bloggers - not simply through the awards ceremony, but also by giving access to press conferences, and interviews with senior MPs, such as Ed Davey and Ming Campbell.

Does this present a danger to those of us who blog? Should we be concerned that, as the party seeks to embrace us, we’ll become smothered? Clearly that’s a risk, but then any new phenomenon is laden with risks. Bloggers who compromise themselves, who sacrifice their authentic independence for the vicarious thrill of being among the favoured élite, lose their credibility - as those who read, and post to, their blogs will be swift to point out.

Besides, the Lib Dems are not that kind of party. I recall the media office phoning to say they had suggested Sky News contact me for a vox pop following a controversial conference vote. “Is there a particular line the party wants to get across?” I asked. (I wasn’t offering to be their patsy, but I thought I’d find out just the same.) “It’s entirely up to you; they want to hear from someone a bit independent,” came the reply. So much for Svengalian spin-doctors: Peter Mandelson would have been turning in his Euro-gravy.

In any case, those of us who sit at a computer should beware of turning into Mr Pooter. It is easy to exaggerate the importance of blogs, their novelty perhaps obscuring the fact that they remain a niche. Even the über-blogs, like Iain Dale’s and Guido Fawkes’, attract around 250,000 unique visitors each month. Yes, it’s impressive… but that’s the same number as pay for their copy of The Independent, the UK’s lowest circulation national newspaper, each and every day. (The nearest comparison for my blog is probably the Biggleswade Chronicle.)

Perhaps the biggest function which blogs perform is the influence they are beginning to exert on the mainstream media. Blogging is prime retail for journalists: it is an easy and unending source of news stories and diary snippets. To politicians, this can spell either manna from heaven, or gaffes from hell.

In the former camp, resides Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, who ousted the Labour incumbent at the 2005 general election with a huge 14.6 per cent swing. Alongside the usual hard slog of ‘pavement politics’, and a formidably well-organised campaign, her profile was pepped up by her sparky, feisty blog. The outspoken blog of Welsh Assembly member Peter Black has earned him copious media coverage, especially in the febrile weeks after May’s inconclusive election results, as he chronicled the twists and turns of the coalition negotiations.

But it doesn’t always work to the good. When Jody Dunn, the Lib Dem candidate in the 2004 Hartlepool by-election, blogged that she had canvassing a street whose residents were “either drunk, flanked by an ugly dog, or undressed”, Labour made the most of her quip, and clung on to the seat.

Perhaps it is because the rewards do not yet outweigh the risks that few Lib Dem Parliamentarians are bloggers. In addition to Lynne, only three MPs have so far been taken by the blogging muse - John Hemming, Adrian Sanders and Steve Webb [and now Sandra Gidley has resumed her blog, too, making four] – as well as two MEPs, Sajjad Karim and Graham Watson, and one peer, Lord Eric Avebury.

Yet alongside this understandable caution, there may be at least as much prioritisation. Elected representatives, at local or national level, may well ponder if blogging is the best use of their campaigning time - compared, say, to producing regular newsletters delivered through every door, or holding surgeries for residents, or simply ensuring they’re keeping on top of their casework. After all, it’s likely your blog will be read chiefly by the cognoscenti in your patch, both your supporters and your opponents. If you’re serious about winning votes you need to be in touch with precisely those people who are least likely casually to surf their way to your blog, and even less likely to read your latest, learned disquisitions on the EU treaty referendum, or the need for electoral reform.

The lesson is simple (the best lessons usually are): blog if you want to, not because you feel you have to. If you find it a chore, and resent the time it takes, your apathy will seep through the screen. It is the enthusiasm of the top bloggers - their drive to connect with their readers - which makes them work.

And if you have that passion, your blog can become a powerful campaigning tool; or it can simply be your space to re-cast your half-formed thoughts into something semi-coherent for public consumption. Either way, fasten your seatbelts, prepare for take-off, and welcome to the Lib Dem blogosphere.


September 19, 2007

Brighton photo diary, Day 3

One of the things non-party members (who usually go by the name, ‘normal people’) are most curious about is what those of us who go actually do at a Lib Dem party conference.

Usually it’s a heady mix of full-on policy debates (so much more exciting if there’s a knife-edge vote which could defeat the leadership), fringe meetings (which the more ambitious MPs will attend half a dozen or more), and enjoying the company of folk you meet perhaps just once a year.

This year, there was an extra treat: a candidates’ hust for the three Lib Dems who are vying to be the party’s choice to take on Ken and Boris in the ’08 London mayoral election.

In a jam-packed lecture theatre at lunch-time today, Chamali Fernando, Fiyaz Mughal and Brian Paddick (in order of appearance) strutted their funky stuff, giving a 5-minute speech, before being quizzed by chair, Susan Kramer, herself an erstwhile Lib Dem mayoral candidate back in 2000.

Chamali fired off an absolutely cracking speech, fizzing with dynamic vigour; Fiyaz displayed an easy and commanding grasp of policies, communicated with real confidence; while Brian brimmed over with liberal camaraderie and humour, wooing an audience more than willing to be wooed with a beguiling mix of charm and calm (I guess he’s had to face tougher crowds in his life).

Like everyone else, I’m assuming Brian is a shoo-in for the Lib Dem nomination. In which case on the basis of today’s performance he will - win or lose (and he could win, you know) - do the party proud. But both Chamali and Fiyaz will do themselves and their future career prospects a power of good by continuing to make such a good contest of it.

I’m writing this on my way back from Brighton… work calls tomorrow, so this is my final photo diary direct from the front-line:

September 18, 2007

Brighton photo diary, Day 2

There’s a slightly odd mood surrounding the conference.

It’s a combination, I guess, of the ‘will he, won’t he’ general election speculation that Gordon Brown has allowed his spin-doctors to fuel, which inevitably makes for nervous excitement - only partly quelled by most people’s best guess that he won’t.

And also a sense of frustration, to which we Lib Dems have had to become accustomed, with the media for focusing on Ming
Campbell’s leadership, and pretending that’s what the delegates are discussing.

The vast, vast majority are happy/reconciled to Ming leading the party through the next general election; a small minority, including a couple of our peers who should know much better, are happy to feed the media beast in return for having their tummies tickled.

Anyway, if you want to keep pace with what is actually happening in Brighton, check out the Lib Dem blogs Aggregator, and Lib Dem Voice.

hile, here are some pretty pictures from the conference hall, including yesterday's Q&A between Ming and Sandi Toksvig, and the speech by European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso:

September 17, 2007

Brighton Photo Diary, Day 1

Sorry, too busy to be erudite right now. Here, instead, are a couple of photos taken at last night’s conference rally, Human rights and civil liberties: home and abroad, where Ming made a good, passionate speech. (Even if no-one was too sure for a couple of seconds that he’d actually finished.)

If you’ve ever wondered what the view of conference is like from the back of the hall, here it is:

And, then, last night I had the very great pleasure of hosting the second annual Lib Dem Blog of the Year awards, run by Lib Dem Voice in conjunction with the national party.

Some very good winners, and some just as good runners-up.

he overall Best Lib Dem blog trophy went to James Graham’s robust but eminently sane creation, Quaequam Blog!.

I snatched an interview with him at lunch-time, which you can watch here:

September 16, 2007

London Brighton calling

Time was, a trip to London on the Oxford Tube (actually a bus) meant 1.5 hours of seclusion from the internet, time to sit back and read, think or just zone out. No longer. It’s wifi-ed up, and I’m clinically incapable, it appears, of leaving my laptop be.

I’m en route to Brighton for the Lib Dem conference. Last year, I was a first-time rookie, and had carefully planned ahead exactly which conference debates and fringe meetings to attend. This year, I’m a two-time old-hander. Which means that I’m going to wing it, and see where I end up.

I may update this blog with my thoughts from Brighton. But chances are my time will be fully occupied by Liberal Democrat Voice, keeping pace both with the latest conference news and gossip, and the increasing number of submissions party members are sending in.

So, in the interim, are my two personal highs and lows from Brighton 2006, courtesy of YouTube:

September 13, 2007

Erm, thanks, I think

I’ve gone two better than Jonathan Calder, it seems - A Liberal Goes A Long Way is, according to Tory uber-blogger, Iain Dale, the most under-rated political blog in the UK. Which is either a rather sweet accolade, or a bit of a back-handed compliment, depending on how you look at it.

Iain suggests - and who am I to disagree? - that my gaff, and the other nine he lists “should be in the top echelons of any blogging list due to their consistently high quality of output, but don't get the attention they deserve.”

It’s true I certainly don’t have anything like the readership of Iain, Guido, Tim, Da Fink et al. Partly that’s because Lib Dem and liberal-leaning blogs have a smaller readership to begin with; it’s also, I suspect, because I don’t abide by the blogging maxim: a little and often. (Ironically enough, that was also my mum’s advice to us when we felt too ill to eat anything.)

I’m a fairly regular blogger, but my output is nowhere near as frenetic as my party colleagues, Nich, Paul or Jonathan himself. All the more so since I became commissioning editor at Lib Dem Voice, and started dividing my blogging time between the two.

It is, to an extent, a conscious decision. I love writing, but I only want to write about what I want to write about - I don’t ever want to feel compelled to write because of others’ expectations. Blogging should never become a tyranny.

And the trouble with building up a large readership is that your obligations start subtly to change. No longer are you thinking, “What do I want to get off my chest?” You start asking instead, “What will my readers be expecting from me?” Not my cup of tea, I’m afraid.

None of which is a dig at Iain. I’ve met him, I like him, I respect him. He has also been generous to me and other Lib Dem bloggers in promoting our endeavours to his massed army of readers (even if half of them are green-ink-smeared, right-wing weirdos).

That said, I was surprised when he was nominated as ‘political commentator of the year’ in the prestigious House Magazine / Sky News Parliamentary Awards earlier this year. Because Iain is not an objective analyst of the political world: he’s a partisan Tory who occasionally criticises his own party, and even more occasionally praises other parties. Nothing wrong with that. But let’s not confuse political commentary with campaigning agitprop.

I have a lot of admiration - genuinely - for those bloggers who respond instantly to the latest news stories with their visceral, gut reactions. But it isn’t for me (and here I add the word beloved by wriggling lawyers - normally). Just as I accept the need for rolling news coverage, but prefer to watch Newsnight.

This self-indulgent navel-gazing posting is, perhaps, emblematic of a Lib Dem mindset: the wish to stay aloof, exclusive, pure, rather than be bespoiled by the grubby compromises of mass popularity and responsibility. Or perhaps I’m just too lazy to commit to penning a minimum of three posts a day, and to the drudgery of adding reciprocal links across the blogosphere.

At any rate, I guess I’d rather be under-rated than over-rated. So thanks, Iain.

September 12, 2007

Oh, Ming - you could have said it so much better

You have to choose your words so carefully in politics. But, sometimes, you can choose them too carefully.

Ming Campbell went firmly on the record today to affirm his view that a referendum on the EU reform treaty was - in his words - “not necessary”. It was entirely the wrong way to make a perfectly valid point.

Why was he wrong?

Words matter. “Not necessary”. Jars a bit, doesn’t it? It’s an altogether too lawyerly phrase - because, of course, a referendum on the EU reform treaty isn’t necessary, any more than it was necessary to have a referendum on the Maastricht treaty... But, back in 1992, the Lib Dems campaigned for such a referendum just the same. It’s also - how can I put this? - a little bit patrician. Ming didn’t actually say, “Don’t worry your little heads about it, the grown-ups will sort this out,” but, frankly, he might as well have done.

Why was he right?

He’s got a point. A referendum would be a complete red herring, a painless way for the electorate to kick the EU in the shins without actually squaring up for the big fight - do we want in, or out? If the electorate said yes to the treaty - a slim possibility - it might quell the Tory right’s xenophobia for a short while; but it wouldn’t be long before they found another pretext for kicking up rough.

If the electorate said no… well, then what? Any bright ideas? Anyone got a clue what precisely it was we said no to? Of course not. All it would prove is that the British people are a bit narked with the EU at the minute. I think we can all work out that for ourselves without the need for a referendum.

What he should have said:

Ming was close. He actually had a good answer, concealed within his legalese: “if we were to have a referendum, then it is worth considering a more fundamental referendum, in a sense of being in or out.” I agree. But, oh, the vagueness! Oh, the conditional clauses! “If”, “worth considering”, “in a sense” - it was like Charlie Kennedy’s Second Coming.

He could have said it so much better:
“Those who call for a referendum on the EU reform treaty are disingenuous. It’s a complete red herring to pretend that such a limited vote would settle, once and for all, Britain’s position within Europe.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: we’re reaching a crunch point. The EEC the British people voted to join has changed almost beyond recognition in the last 30 years. The politicians should wake up to that fact, and recognise why the public feels so left out of the debate.

“I am a passionate internationalist and pro-European. But I believe we must take the British people - indeed, all the peoples of Europe - with us on this journey. I don’t want a vote on a treaty which tinkers round the edges. It’s time for a new referendum, time to give a new generation the opportunity to debate what my generation debated back in 1975.

Does Britain want to play a full part in the European Union as it is today; or do we want to sit on the sidelines? That’s the key to this whole debate.

“Labour prefers to ignore the issue, hopes it will simply go away. It won’t. The Tories are desperate to paper over the cracks in their party’s unity, clinging to a referendum like a drowning man clings to driftwood. They’re missing the point.

“Only the Lib Dems are prepared to say it like it is: it’s time for a national debate, time once again for the British people to make up their minds, and decide the ultimate question: do we want to be in the EU or not?”

September 10, 2007

Voyeurism populi

I know practically nothing about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, something I have in common with the rest of Britain, in spite of and also because of the sick-makingly voyeuristic media coverage this case has attracted.

Like the rest of Britain I plead guilty to having followed this case with a horrified, saddened and sometimes prurient fascination. I have moved between judging the parents, and anger at those who judge them without knowing the full facts. And I have watched with helpless indignation the obscene and unthinking xenophobia which engulfs Brits, exemplified by the press at all levels, when something Bad happens Abroad.

And then, just as I have despaired of any sense of common decency emerging from this tragedy, at last (some of) the public rebels against the hysterical slaverings of the media:
Listeners outraged by a BBC Radio Five Live debate on Madeleine McCann forced the station to change a phone-vote on her disappearance. Victoria Derbyshire's morning phone-in today asked listeners to vote on whether they still had sympathy for Madeleine's parents Gerry and Kate after they were officially made suspects in the case by Portuguese police on Friday.

Dozens of listeners contacted the programme to say they did not think it was a suitable subject for debate while the legal process was still ongoing. ... The weight of the negative reaction was such that producers were forced to change the vote to whether the station should be discussing the case at all - and listeners voted by 68% to 32% that it should not be.
It’s coming to something when the BBC - the BBC - has to ask its own listeners if it should exercise any editorial restraint when speculating live on air about an ongoing criminal investigation about which its journalists and listeners will know next to nothing beyond recycled tittle-tattle and their own prejudices.

September 06, 2007

Oxford's Labour group: out of their depth

I suppose I could admire the Labour group in Oxford for its sheer effrontery. But sometimes political hypocrisy can be a little too blatant to be effective.

But a double helping of hypocrisy was on the table at this week’s meeting of Oxford city’s Full Council, when Labour proposed keeping open the Peers Sports Centre and swimming pool in Littlemore. Fair enough, you might say. But there are two problems with the Labour party’s position.

The first problem is that the Labour group, each and every single member of it, voted to pull the plug on the pool back in February during the City Council’s budget-setting. And so, for that matter, did the Lib Dems, and every other party on the Council.

The reason? It’s pretty expensive, and needs an estimated £200k refurbishment - more importantly, it doesn’t fit with the Council’s ambition of having two excellent pools serving East Oxford, one of competition standard at Temple Cowley, and a family-friendly one at Blackbird Leys. Pulling out of running the pool (which is owned by the County Council) will save the City Council £100k in the current financial year - a saving Labour happily banked without so much as a murmur of protest just six months ago when presenting their budget.

But there’s a second problem. The pool and sports centre are located at Peers Technology College - set to be the site for Oxford’s first academy. When the school becomes an academy - and it’s a when, not an if - its current buildings will be replaced thanks to the government bribes funding tied to such status. Oxfordshire County Council, as the local education authority, and the Diocese of Oxford have both already made clear they won’t rebuild the pool or sports centre as part of the new academy site.

Now last month, the City Council debated a motion on Peers academy plans. Guess what happened? Yes, that’s right: every single Labour councillor present voted in favour of them, even though they knew it would mean the inevitable closure of Peers pool and sport centre.

So, on two separate occasions - in February and in August - Labour had the chance to try and save the leisure facilities at Peers. On both occasions, they chose instead to vote for policies they knew would lead to their closure.

Of course, none of this has stopped Labour and their two Littlemore ward councillors from mounting a campaign to save the pool. A campaign they know full well is utterly doomed from the start, not least thanks to their party’s policies, which they fully support!

And then we wonder why the public is cynical about politics…

Mark Oaten has a point

Of course, there’s lots to disagree with in today’s article by Mark Oaten in The Times arguing in favour of a Lib Dem / Tory coalition - for example:
Many people may be surprised by how much shared agenda there is between the two parties. On the environment, civil liberties and localism the two parties share some common ground.
“Surprised” doesn’t come anywhere near it, Mark. The Tory commitment to such values is about as firm as a meringue.

However, he does have at least half a point about the need for the party to shift its position what the Lib Dems would do in the event of a Hung Parliament. Simply to keep repeating our maxim, “Maximum votes, maximum seats”, will be seen as dodging the question - altogether too lawyerly - in the fevered maelstrom of a general election campaign.

Instead Mark urges:
Ming needs to come out now and state that, in the event of a hung Parliament, the Liberal Democrats will work with whichever party has the most MPs.
Well, I’m not sure whether it should be with whichever party has the most MPs… we are, after all, supposed to be a party committed to a fairer electoral system. But exchange the words “MPs” for “votes”, and I’m with him all the way.

Such an answer avoids the party getting dragged into the dead-end debate the media loves about whether the party is closer to the Tories or closer to Labour. (In reality, of course, they’re much closer to each other than we are to either one of them.) And yet it is a principled stance which promises the Liberal Democrats will respect the wishes of the public.

A double whammy, in fact.

September 05, 2007

More combing and why's OR The post what I wrote

Earlier this week, I compiled the Top Lib Dem Media Tarts of the Year over at Lib Dem Voice. It doesn’t take that long to comb the Lexis-Nexis database on which it’s based, but, still, I need something to occupy my mind while I tally numbers.

Fortunately, the BBC recently released this Morecambe and Wise dvd, keeping me happily occupied. Which is all the excuse I need to post this clip:

September 04, 2007

A lurch to the right? More like drift into desperation

Has David Cameron fallen into his last three predecessors’ trap - start off promising to be a fluffy moderniser, end up losing as a shrill reactionary? That’s the charge from both the Lib Dems and Labour in the wake of Mr Cameron’s recent focus on the so-called core-vote issues of crime, Europe and immigration.

In some ways, it’s a fair point. But I think it underestimates the partial success of Mr Cameron’s 18-month re-branding exercise, at least in ensuring most voters give the Tory leader a fair hearing. I’m not sure the public will stigmatise him all that quickly simply for re-hashing Middle England’s cri de coeur that there are too many yobs, the EU’s gone too far, and immigration is “too high”.

The bigger danger for Mr Cameron is this charge, levelled by Andrew Rawnsley in his column in the Observer last Sunday:
What might seem like balance to a Tory strategist can come over as just confusing to voters. If it is not a lurch to the right, then it is a lurch all over the place. This is partly because, as Mr Cameron's various policy commissions report, they are producing contradictory and sometimes diametrically opposed recommendations. The environment group wants a freeze on all airport building and higher taxes on flying; only the other week, the John Redwood policy group was arguing for a massive expansion in airports. David Cameron had better decide - and quickly - how he wants to be defined in the public mind.
Ironically, a similar example of Tory muddle-think appeared the same day, penned by Mr Cameron himself in the Sunday Telegraph. The Tory leader was setting out what he sees as the party’s principles for education policy. See if you can spot the join:
[Look at] Labour's methods: obsessive micro-management and rigid attachment to old-fashioned ideas has entrenched deprivation, shut doors and closed minds. … We will make sure that children are taught using the right methods, so they get the basics in place from the start, develop a passion for learning and are able to grapple with tougher subjects. That is why we campaigned so hard for the re-introduction of synthetic phonics as the best way of teaching reading. And to ensure we stretch the brightest pupils and support those who need extra help, we want to see teaching by ability in every school. We will also look carefully at our policy group's idea of giving pupils who are falling behind at the age of 11 the chance to catch up and reach the right standard in the basics.
Yes, that’s right! Mr Cameron is so opposed to political meddling, and so keen on parental choice that he’s confining his involvement to prescribing from Whitehall the methods by which kids are taught; the groups in which they’re taught; and whether kids can repeat a year. Heaven help us if he starts feeling didactic. Of course, all the ideas he floats have merit. But such matters of detailed policy should be left to parents and schools to sort out.

And that exemplifies the real problem for Mr Cameron and his party. The so-called ‘lurch to the right’ is irrelevant, except presentationally. After all, the Tory party hasn’t changed one jot in the last two years - they’re still in exactly the same place they’ve always been: hostile to foreigners, minorities, reform, progress and nuance.

For a while - when the going was good, and the polls were high - Mr Cameron was allowed to orbit the party, to reach for the skies, and to let sunshine have its day. But now darkness has set in, and the Tories are fed up with their leader mooning around, being totally eclipsed by the Prime Minister.

So what is Mr Cameron left to do? The only thing he can do - spout some right-wing rhetoric for his partys benefit while producing unimaginative and confused policies he hopes no-one will notice too much. And then rely on the public being so bored with Labour’s grip on power they’ll vote out Gordon Brown regardless.

But it won’t work. Tory members have seen what Tony Blair did to the Labour party, and they don’t want it to happen to their party: sure, there were three election victories, but the soul of the party was ripped inside out in the process. Quite simply, they don’t trust their ‘heir to Blair’ not to sideline the right-wing just as Mr Blair neutered his party’s left-wing. They would prefer pure defeat to sullied triumph.

This fear - that Mr Cameron will sacrifice Tory ideology in puruit of a Tory victory - was the driving force behind Michael Ancram’s rather extraordinarily-timed attack on his leadership in today’s Telegraph, which, the former deputy leader of the Tory party (2001-05) alleged, lacks “an overall sense of vision and direction and a clear projection of what it stands for”.

Mr Ancram’s article is a rather delicious throwback - “We believe above all in the resolute defence of our sovereignty and our realm” - descending into the customary obsessive rant about Europe, and “this wretched treaty”. The 13th Marquess of Lothian will, I suspect, have earned few friends among his Parliamentary colleagues for once again putting undisciplined Tory feuding centre-stage. But what he’s said is as true a statement of what he and most Tory party members truly care about as you could wish to read.

It’s the kind of statement which loses elections, as Mr Cameron knows full well. But, really, it’s the only message the Tory party wants to hear. And nothing Mr Cameron’s done since he became leader has done anything to alter that fact.

The Tory leader’s only option in the circumstances is to muddle through as best he can. But if the Tories are this divided in opposition, just imagine what would happen if they found themselves in government, and actually had to exercise some responsibility?

Cameron's leadership deficit

Two quick questions, prompted by a couple of the results from Ipsos-Mori’s latest survey of political opinion, published yesterday:
  1. Which of the three main party leaders has the lowest overall satisfaction rating with the general public?
  2. Which of the three main party leaders has the lowest overall satisfaction rating among his own party’s supporters?
If you read the Telegraph (and indeed some of the comments on Lib Dem Voice) you’d assume the answer to be the Lib Dem leader, Ming Campbell.

You would be wrong. The answer is Tory leader David Cameron.

Here comes the science:

The question was the same for each leader: Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way Brown/Cameron/Campbell is doing his job as leader of the Labour/Conservative/Liberal Democrat Party?

Among all voters:
  • Gordon Brown: 43% satisfied, 23% dissatisfied; 34% don’t know = Overall +20%
  • David Cameron: 29% satisfied; 39% dissatisfied; 32% don’t know = Overall -10%
  • Menzies Campbell: 23% satisfied; 32% dissatisfied; 46% don’t know = Overall -9%
Among party supporters*:
  • Gordon Brown: 63% satisfied; 7% dissatisfied; 29% don’t know = Overall +56%
  • David Cameron: 52% satisfied; 32% dissatisfied; 15% don’t know = Overall +20%
  • Menzies Campbell: 53% satisfied; 24% dissatisfied; 23% don’t know = Overall +29%
(* This comes with an even larger health warning than most opinion polls should more prominently carry, as the sample sizes were pretty small.)

None of this means that we as Lib Dems, or indeed Ming Campbell himself, should be complacently happy with this state of affairs. Overall Ming has a negative satisfaction rating among the public, which cannot be a good thing.

Yet the poll’s finding that almost half the electorate has yet to make up its mind about his leadership suggesting the ball remains in his court - he has time to convince the public he’s got what it takes. And the vast majority of party supporters - 53% - appear to want him to have that chance.

That, combined with the mandate he secured in a democratic leadership contest just 18 months ago, should mean an end to the public backbiting that achieves nothing except to undermine party activists’ hard work.

The really bad news is for the Tories and Mr Cameron.

It is clear that despite the metropolitan media’s love affair with David Cameron, the wider public is much more sceptical. Mr Cameron is not the talismanic, moonshine-touched vote-winner the Tory party thought it was voting for - and that is beginning to feed through into high levels of dissatisfaction among Tory voters.