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Introducing the next leader of the Liberal Democrats : Norman Lamb

By admin
April 11th, 2011 at 7:15 am | 9 Comments | Posted in coalition, Liberal Democrats

 There’s not a vacancy, of course.

And nobody’s talking about a vacancy.

We’re all backing Nick. Some of us still dust down the “I agree with Nick” banners, T-shirts and badges. They bring a tear to the eye. They remind us of those dreamy days when, with just a couple of weeks to go to polling day, the LibDems were at over 30% in a cluster of opinion polls.

Much has changed since then, of course. If a week’s a long time in politics, a year is, in rough terms, about 52 times as long.

But, most likely, if you had to put your house on it, you’d probably shove it on Nick Clegg leading the party into the next election. And if you knew he wasn’t going to – and have to bet your mortgage on someone else – you’d probably have to edge towards Chris Huhne or Tim Farron as his likely successor.

Every loyalist insists in public, of course, that such tittle tattle is just the media making mischief.  But – in our heart of hearts – we know that’s totally disingenuous.

Bar room gossip at party conferences quite often turns to the topic of who the next party leader might be. It’s not plotting. It’s just idle speculation. But that doesn’t make it illegitimate or poisonous.

Everyone involved in politics is interested in how things might “pan out” and telling Jeremy Paxman that you “don’t answer hypothetical questions” is just a cop out. Virtually everything we think about and discuss is based on hypothetical questions.

So, consider this.

Imagine – for whatever reason – that Nick Clegg doesn’t continue as party leader for the next decade. You don’t need the imagination of an Arthur C. Clarke or a J. R. R. Tolkien to see how this might happen. Maybe he just gets cheesed off with the whole thing. Maybe there is some enormous internal party revolt at some stage. Maybe there is some recalibration of the way the Coalition operates. There’s a zillion ways it could happen, even though, on balance, it probably won’t.

Step forward Norman Lamb. He is an almost complete unknown outside of the LibDems. But then so was Nick until the first TV debate.

Crucially, he’s fairly independent. He’s not put all his chips on the Coalition succeeding, which many other possible leadership candidates have had to (partly because, of course, he was shamefully overlooked for ministerial office when the Coalition was formed).

He’s also essentially a party loyalist, but with Orange Book and mildly eurosceptic tendencies.

His television profile is rising. He’s an obvious choice for party-orientated media (by-elections etc) and also strong on his former health portfolio. Yesterday, he broke cover to make a splash on his concerns over the Lansley NHS reforms. Not in the terms of some tedious conservative Luddite, but for fear they hadn’t been fully thought through.

About a year ago, here on this very blog,  Norman was described as a media superstar.  Objectively he is not that – not yet. He’s occasionally a bit defensive and slightly hesitant. But he does have the common touch and doesn’t talk in jargon. Additionally, I’m not sure that “macho” politicians – displaying Ed Balls-style certainty in the face of all credible evidence to the contrary – are very popular anywhere any more.

He also has a few other things going for him. Typically, LibDems seems to vote for more establishment middle-of-the-road candidates rather than firebrand radicals. Despite their many strengths, Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne have now both lost two leadership elections from “the left”. To run for a third time for the party leadership surely puts one in the “Ken Clarke” position – widely considered charming, but unlikely to ever actually inherit the crown.

The lefty-leaning, charismatic, activist-adored and media savvy Tim Farron, only narrowly defeated the more establishment Susan Kramer for the party’s Presidency last year despite running an enormously more impressive campaign.

Norman also has a pretty hardened and impressive political CV – both at the coal face of Westminster and at the grassroots level. He had to deal with the growing disquiet over Charles Kennedy’s difficulties with alcohol (having been his PPS) – and was one of the very first MPs to publicly call for Charles to quit. He also has the battle scars of the frustrating Ming Campbell period, serving as his chief of staff in troubled times.

At local electoral level, Lamb’s achievements are staggering. He first contested North Norfolk – a rock solid Tory seat with a 10,000 majority in 1992. He cut this to around 1,000 in 1997 and just won it with a majority of 483 in 2001. In 2005, he saw off Tory blogger Iain Dale and increased the LibDem majority by over 2,000%. He increased his majority again in 2010 to an eye-watering 11,626.

If the shift in votes which have occurred in Norman Lamb’s seat since 1992 had been replicated across the country last May, the national vote share in the 2010 General Election would have been LibDem 46% Conservative 20% Labour 17%.

He may need simply to find a little more self-confidence and a bit more steel. And no doubt his surname gives rise to a whole string of dismissive newspaper headlines and dispatch box jibes. But the next time you’re speculating about who might lead the Liberal Democrats next, give Norman Lamb serious consideration.

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Oldham – thoughts for Lib Dems

By Angela Harbutt
January 15th, 2011 at 9:01 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

One serious omission from my previous post on Oldham. Norman Lamb (in the studio) and Tim Farron (at the Count) both gave stellar performances for the Lib Dems on the night (on the BBC’s by election programme).

Norman has long been a trusted friend of Lib Dem leaders and has a style and personality that makes him easily likeable. That possibly makes it all to easy to forget just how effective he really is in combative situations. I am sure he has many and important tasks within the Coalition – but why he is not given a more prominent role facing the public? He is easily one of the most effective advocates the Coalition has. Get this man out there. More. Now.

Tim Farron is likewise a class act. We have praised him on several occassions on this blog – his quality shines out- and whilst our support ultimately went to Susan during the election of President, I for one think that few, if any, could have done  a better job than Tim on the night. If he continues in this vein, and uses his many skills to support Nick and the party in coalition, then he will have my support all day long. Great job.

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Norman Lamb..text book performance

By Angela Harbutt
April 9th, 2010 at 12:20 am | 4 Comments | Posted in Election, Liberal Democrats

“Norman Lamb football politics genius”…..

..they chant from the stands…

Newsnight (8th April) item 2 was about the NHS. Andy Burnham gifted the away teams a wondrous advantage by appearing from a remote studio (maybe not his choice and perhaps one interview too many that day. I have not checked). In any event, it effectively reduced him to a pundit on the sidelines rather than one of the main players. You really don’t want to do that when you are up against the Lambster … 

It surely allowed the silky attacking skills of Norman Lamb – in studio – to dominate possession. Andrew Lansley (Tory Sec of State for Health (and notorious flipper of homes)) did his best- but the footwork of Lamb was a beauty to behold. 

Norman was in superb attack-dog mode. Unstoppable. He never let any statement go unchallenged from Burnham or Lansley… What was it …40% possession?  and what.. two goals ? (sign him up ..sign him up ..sign him up..)

A great text book performance. And frankly we would expect nothing less of Norman. He is really bright, across his subject, and looks great on TV. 

But.. where is his back up? He is a natural at the health stuff – but who was looking after the nuances? With these kind of debates  ordinary folk (i.e. my mum, my sister in law or my mad aunt (won’t name her for obvious reasons)) go away thinking “that grey haired bloke was sound”…but ..give it an hour, a day, a week and will they remember which grey haired bloke? No. They won’t .

How do I know ? Because for the past 18 months I have had to answer the question, time after time, with friends and relatives…..”who’s that clever grey-haired bloke who knows about the economy” …Vince Cable I say…. “which party is he with then?” . Arrgghhh!.  Vince “broke through” with my family about  6 months ago. Ironically around the time he was getting duffed up for the mansion tax thing….. but the outcome has been that  they are NOW huge mad fans of his AND they know which party he is with.

So returning to Norman. A polished performance. And yes, Newsnight is watched disproportionately by nerds, journalists and the politically aware. They will know who he is anyway you may say.  

But I think we should be more ambitious – and cleverer-  than that. We don’t have the luxury of time with the likes of Norman – he needs to punch hard and voters to know who landed the punches.  These debates will be posted on You Tube, discussed on line and talked about in work places in the coming days. So lets get it right..especially with those that can turn in a great perfomance…

Every interview counts. So, Lib Dem strategists ..get too it. Give him a bit of back up. Let him worry about the performance but give him a bit of help… Who’s there to put him in a yellow tie – not a red stripey jobby – and remind him to drop in “we the liberals” once in a while. Its easy to forget that in the heat of the moment – a timely reminder does wonders…..

Come on “spin-meisters” – get to it.

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Does Snoutgate mean that Tatton is the future of British politics?

By Mark Littlewood
May 17th, 2009 at 3:05 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

neil-hamilton-and-martin-bell1If the fallout from Snoutgate is a long-term breakdown of trust of politicians, does this mean that your electoral prospects could now better as a mere PPC rather than as an MP? In other words, is incumbency now potentially electoral poison. 

I’m more interested in the lower-grade stuff. The occassional item of soft furnishing. The odd electric toothbrush or lightbulb. A Kenwood mixer here or a new kettle there.

It’s not hard to see how the political opponents of such MPs could run their local campaigns.

If you remember back to June 2006, the LibDems nearly snatched the safe seat of Bromley from the Tories with a swing of 14% in a Parliamentary by-election. Cameron was flying high in the polls at the time. There were no enormous policy issues dominating the campaign.

The LibDem machine focused relentlessly on the professional record of hapless Tory candidate Bob Neil – “Three Jobs Bob” as he was dubbed. And it came within a whisker of shifting a safe Conservative seat from the blue to the yellow column.

The allegation against Bob Neil was that he would be unable to dilligently carry out his duties as a local MP. He didn’t live in the area and had numerous other serious professional and political commitments. Fair enough points to make against your opponent in the rough and tumble of a by-election campaign, for sure. But nowhere near as electorally poisonous as the stuff that is coming out about a whole swathe of MPs. If Bob Neil had also charged the taxpayer £2,000 to have his moat dredged or £800 for a widescreen TV, he would have been annihilated.

So – unless like David Howarth – you have a record so squeaky clean you may even be able to turn it to your electoral advantage, what will the impact be on siting MPs? Perhaps the present anger will dissipate. But if it doesn’t, incumbency now strikes me as – all things being equal – an electoral disadvantage.

If you were a LibDem candidate, would you prefer to have a majority of a couple of thousand, but a few minor embarrassments on your expenses claims? Or would you prefer to be the main challenger? A few thousand votes behind, but against a Tory or Labour opponent who has bought a DVD player, rewired his electrics and purchased some flashy new curtains. I think I’d be more confident as the LibDem challenger, rather than as the LibDem incumbent

This could have some profound implications for the party’s electoral strategy. A central pillar of LibDem thinking has always been that Liberals can “dig in”. Once you’ve won the seat, you are dilligent in handling casework and building your local profile. This insulates you against a national swing. It helps you build a sizeable personal vote. Norman Lamb’s victory in 2005 and Ed Davey’s in 2001 are striking examples of this.

But has Snoutgate just driven a coach and horses through this approach? Have hundreds of hours of local campaigning, thousands of personalised letters and an all-round-the-year diary of campaigning just been made to look like small electoral beer when compared to what you have – or have not – claimed on the second home allowance? Is the list of winnable LibDem seats now unrecognisable from what it would have been just a fortnight ago? Are there now a tranche of seats which have suddenly become more winnable than a good number of seats that we presently hold?

Will we see a massively enhanced role for local campaigning, where the record of the sitting MP out-trumps any other issue on campaign literature? Could we witness the delicious oddity of a party making hay out of expenses claim in one seat, while simultaneously trying to defend itself against almost identical allegations in the neighbouring constituency?

Might the General Election even feel a bit like a ton of simultaneous by-elections? Back in 1997, the Tories suffered badly across the board because of the stench of sleaze – but in Tatton, the downfall of Neil Hamilton (with a humungous 39% swing against him) at the hands of white knight Martin Bell was simply stunning. Might the next election contain a helluva lot of Tattons?

We’re still in the midst of a devastating political crisis. And the Telegraph has so far only printed the expense claims of about 100 MPs. It’s hard to even begin to guess what the eventual electoral fallout will be. But it seems safe to say that a lot of the established electoral rulebook will need to be thrown out of the window.

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Chris Huhne and Norman Lamb lead LibDem calls for Speaker to quit

By Mark Littlewood
May 15th, 2009 at 4:15 am | 9 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

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Chris Huhne (on Newnsight) and Norman Lamb have now both come out calling for the Speaker to go – with Norman making it plain that he will back Douglas Carswell’s motion.

Michael Martin’s days are surely numbered.

It’s important for the LibDems to steal a march on the Tories here, and for Nick Clegg to endorse and reinforce  the calls of his two frontbench spokesmen.

Another Julian H augmentation: Betty Boothroyd is, allegedly, “just appalled at the way Martin has behaved”. This comes via the Daily Mail via Bernard Salmon’s Sound of Gunfire blog. Which reminds me that Bernard is an enlightened Wenger sympathiser, and I will therefore add him to our links. Done.

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