Tempting as it is to scapegoat a feral press officer, the lessons from the
last week need also to be learned by those higher up. It was not Mr Littlewood
who first started speculating about the possibility of a Hung Parliament: it was
Sir Menzies in his pre-conference interview with The Times’s Peter Riddell.
And it was not Mr Littlewood’s speech which clumsily set out five tests for Labour’s Gordon Brown to prove his prime ministerial worthiness, but scornfully dismissed David Cameron’s Tories in just three words. The media can hardly be blamed for inferring that equidistance is no longer the cri de coueur of the Lib Dems. That this seemed to take the party leadership by surprise is not to their credit. It is also bad politics: as potential king-makers, it’s extra-important the party should keep, and should appear to be keeping, its options open.
Let’s remember that in Saturday’s Trident debate Sir Menzies urged the party not to commit Britain to unilateral disarmament: to do so, delegates were warned, would undermine this country’s negotiating position. I agree. Real brinksmanship requires studied neutrality.
I have largely exculpated the media of blame for the hole the Lib Dems dug ourselves last Sunday. But this debacle highlights how good political reporting has been sacrificed at the altar of fast political reporting. Once upon a time, a politician made a speech, and it was reported verbatim. Thankfully those times are long gone. This gave way to the reporting of speeches accompanied by some contextual analysis. Then, with the pressure of the rolling news agenda, copy was distributed to the media in advance of a speech. And now, not only are speeches distributed in advance, but the media allows itself to be briefed on what are the key passages, and what the speaker really means by this or that sentence. The result is that the media has given up listening to the content of speeches, or analysing them with detached objectivity: instead, all is viewed through the prism of the briefing. Journalists’ deadlines are more frenetic than ever: anything that isn’t encapsulated within the ‘Breaking News’ ticker-tape is old news. Being first matters more than being right. Sunday’s debacle was wholly avoidable; that it wasn’t avoided is the Lib Dems’ fault, and our problem. But it also says much about today’s political climate - the interaction of journalists, media officers and politicians - that what controversy there was at conference centred not on the policies passed, but rather on a disputed
behind-the-scenes briefing about a speech.
You can read the whole post HERE. Jonny Wright also has a good post on the subject of the LibDems and a hung Parliament.