I am not sure whether to laugh or cry. Simon Hughes is a wonderful, off the wall, force of nature – much loved (as we are told so often) by the party activists – but his interview with the Observer, published today, is a PR disaster on almost every level. That is nothing new. He has been making media gaffs and sending party press officers into tail spin for as long as I can remember. This was a peach even by his own fine standards.
I wonder, on reflection, if he really meant to undermine the leader of Liberal Democrats quite as much as he did? Consider the following quotes from the interview..
“There have been times in the past year where he hasn’t been down but the burdens have been very obvious, the pressure has been obvious. It was dreadfully draining, physically exhausting and then he had all the personal stuff.”
and so forth…… What do they say to you? ….. More importantly what do you think they say to the wider public? They say nothing about Simon Hughes and a great deal about Nick Clegg. The message from these statements is that Nick Clegg is not a very strong leader; that a significant section of the party don’t trust him; that he is out of touch with his party; that he is rather young and inexperienced and has found the job rather too tough.
Now, I doubt very much that Simon meant to say any of that about his leader. So I wonder why he let it come across like that ?
Having done a pretty good, if unintentional, hatchet job on the party leader, he then goes on to goad our coalition partners grassroots into further levels of hysteria. He describes large sections of the Tory faithful as “extreme” and ”deluded” and comes out with such gems as … “The Tory party is absolutely not the dominant force in British politics that it used to be” and “The Tories can be nastier if they are allowed to collect more and more money legitimately“…
Hmmmm light touch paper and stand well back. I wonder why Simon thinks that such statements coming from the Deputy leader of the party are helpful? What does he hope they achieve? The more he prods the Tory faithful, the more difficult it will be for Cameron to be seen to agree to any compromise with the Lib Dems. Raising the octane is really only helpful if your aim is to derail the coalition surely?
I really don’t think Simon is guilty of seeking to destabilise the coalition or Nick. I think he is guilty of playing to the gallery. Talking to conference rather than the wider electorate. A bit too much self aggrandisement without thought of the consequences. That might have been fine in the past. Now we are in Government he does need to give a bit more thought to who he is talking to what he is saying.