My blog posting on 15th April, “The Great Debate – Round One to Clegg”, elicited a response from Paul Francis, Political Editor at the Kent Messenger and Kent Journalist of the Year 2010. Paul asked “Come on Kevin – who won, in your opinion?”. I haven’t rushed to answer, because the truth is that my opinion counts for very little. The real acid test is out there on the doorsteps, with those whose crosses on 6th May could change the state of our communities – and our nation – for years to come.
Of course, in last week’s televised debate all three party leaders were coached beyond perfection. Their every inflection, nuance and mannersim was pre-planned and calculated for maximum effect. I read that even Gordon Brown’s throwaway quip about David Cameron’s “airbrushed policies” was a ‘pre-rehearsed joke’. But by the reaction on some doorsteps as well as the reaction in the subsequent polls, it seems the clear winner on the night was Nick Clegg.
My concern isn’t the result of the television debates – I’m sure both Brown and Cameron are working hard to ensure that Clegg doesn’t take the advantage in the remaining two debates. Forget the current rash of claims that Clegg isn’t really the ‘man of the people’ he claims to be; forget the sleaze claims around expenses, or that his CV excludes his work for the lobbying consultant GJW – all of these claims will emerge as his profile increases. My real fear is that enough of the voting public will think – wrongly – that the fresh-faced, personable Liberal Democrat on their TV screen has anything to do with the party they would actually give power to locally.
Let’s not forget this is the same party who published “Effective Opposition – a guide for Councillors and Campaigners” authored by Steve Hitchins and Alana Coombes. The guide was distributed widely to LibDem activists and offered such pearls of political wisdom as:
- “Be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly.” (Page 21)
- “Positive campaigning will NOT be enough to win control of the council.” (Page 4)
- “Don’t be afraid to exaggerate. For example, responses to surveys and petitions are always ‘massive’. If a council is doing something badly public expressions are always of ‘outrage’.” (Page 23)
It’s the same party who locally wrote expressing their outrage that I and another Tunbridge Wells County Councillor lived outside our constituencies – and yet think it perfectly acceptable that the LibDem Parliamentary candidate for Tunbridge Wells David Hallas lives in Sevenoaks, and the Sevenoaks and Swanley candidate Alan Bullion lives on the Sherwood Estate in Tunbridge Wells.
So to coin another phrase from “Effective Opposition”, “You are NOT running the council. It’s NOT your problem.” – it’s all too easy for Nick Clegg to fire bullets at both Cameron and Brown, knowing it’s almost impossible that he will ever be called upon to run the country.
My point? Maybe different wrapping, same contents?