Amateur hour for the Liberal Democrats?

Rafael Behr uses the ongoing Rennard imbroglio as a jumping off point for some broader points about the positioning of the Liberal Democrats in a post today at the New Statesman.

He argues that:

Clegg’s office has a clear enough sense of where they think he and the party can stand on the political spectrum … There is, in theory, a gap in the political market – a Blair-shaped hole – for third-way candidates who combine economic rigour with a social conscience.

Juggling MagicianBut to fill that gap the Lib Dems must above all look like a serious political outfit. The pitch is non-ideological and pragmatic … They are offering themselves as the moderate technocrats who aren’t afraid of compromise and keep Westminster grounded and centred. You aren’t necessarily expected to like the Lib Dems anymore, but … you are supposed to think it worthwhile having them around in government.

The defining feature of this offer is professionalism and it is the absence of that very quality that stands out from the mess they are in over Lord Rennard. The charges themselves (unproven and denied, it must be said), the original handling of complaints five years ago and the sprawling case study in crisis mismanagement over the past week all conjure up the impression of an organisation staffed with chancers and over-promoted amateurs.

… Lib Dem plans for 2015 are based on the hope that eventually some voters will come to look at their record in office and judge them to have been decent and useful. Yet here they are in a colourful parade of shabby and useless.

Is this fair? [Read more…]

The peculiarities of plebgate

6153069332_4811921915_mThere is little doubt that the so-called “plebgate” affair leading to Andrew Mitchell’s resignation was decidedly peculiar. It had momentum in the media because it pandered to preconceptions of the Tory Cabinet as a bunch of out of touch, condescending and rather unpleasant upper class twits.

In the run up to Christmas Channel 4 broadcast a programme raising suspicions over the police “evidence” regarding the incident and its apparent corroboration by a member of the public claiming to have been an eye witness. Central to those suspicions was the observation that the “member of the public” appeared to be a serving police officer. And the CCTV footage seemed to suggest a scarcity of eye witnesses.

This week the story has been given another run around the block and a new angle. The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) published its report into the investigation of the incident. It is very brief report and well worth reading in its entirety. The focus of the report is on the role of the Cabinet Secretary in the investigation, and the absence from the scene of the Independent Advisor on Ministers’ Interests.

The PASC, under the chairmanship of the redoubtable Bernard Jenkin, is characteristically forthright in its view on the matter. It gives the Government what can only be described as a ticking off, albeit one couched in relatively restrained terms. [Read more…]

Age, ignorance or incompetence?

What a shocking week for the Government. We’re well past the odd mishap. As the Government careers from one problem to another we’re now shading into something rather more embarrassing. With the exception of some über-loyalists with an eye to preferment, excoriating comment is emerging from all points on the political spectrum.

[Read more…]

Jeremy Hunt and the limits of credulity

David Cameron’s performance in the House yesterday in response to Labour’s urgent question about Jeremy Hunt seems to have split people. A large number of people thought he was an offensive and evasive bully. Tory loyalists thought he valiantly defended a minister whose reputation had been unfairly impuned.

This is just the latest installment in a very peculiar saga.

As John Rentoul reminded us on Sunday, there was never a golden age when Ministers were routinely doing the honourable thing: resigned at the first sign of impropriety – let alone illegality – in their department. But you have to ask quite what sort of evidence has to be in the public domain before Cameron would feel compelled to concede that maybe, just maybe, it was time for Hunt to go. [Read more…]