So, how many Lib Dems did the BBC phone to get an anti-Ming quote?

by Stephen Tall on August 1, 2007

On BBC Radio 4’s The World at One this lunch-time, the programme featured an end-of-term report on the Lib Dems – how the party’s doing, how Ming Campbell’s doing. And, in particular, if the Lib Dems would do better under a new leader.

I knew it was happening because I received an e-mail this morning from one of the BBC’s WatO producers asking to speak to me. Other Lib Dem bloggers got the same e-mail. Then the BBC phoned me, and asked me some questions to gauge my perceptions of the party’s fortunes at the moment.

I answered, giving – I hope – a reasonably fair-minded picture. Yes, a few Lib Dems are distinctly unimpressed by Ming’s leadership, though the Ealing Southall and Sedgefield by-elections have settled some nerves. But I don’t detect any mood among the vast majority of activists or members in favour of a second defenestration in as many years. Most of us (I think) would regard that as (i) destructively counter-productive; and (ii) a pointless distraction.

I suspect those sentiments kaiboshed my hopes of appearing on WatO. What they wanted was a Lib Dem activist who would be content to go on the record calling for Ming to go. (I guess they knew they wouldn’t find an MP, a tribute at least to Ming’s leadership of the Parliamentary party.) Lib Dem blogger and Federal Policy Committee member, Linda Jack, stepped up to the plate.

No reason why she shouldn’t, and Linda has staunchly defended her decision to do so on Lib Dem Voice here. She’s just as entitled to call for a new leader – and she did it in the nicest possible way, I should add – as I am to view the prospect with a queasily sinking stomach.

But, equally, it’s only fair to ask: how many Lib Dems did the BBC speak to, and how many agreed with Linda’s assessment? Was her view one the BBC felt, having spoken to a number of us, best represented the membership; or was it that her view best fitted the BBC’s pre-ordained agenda?

Because this gets to the heart of journalistic balance, of real impartiality. Was the BBC’s aim truly to take the temperature of the party, or was it simply to whip up a mini-storm-in-a-teacup? Call me a cynic, but I suspect the latter.

Yesterday, I posted an article to Lib Dem Voice attacking the media’s obsession with personality politics, in part a response to the depressingly juvenile reporting of David Cameron’s recent woes: “Mr Cameron needn’t worry so much,” I wrote, next month it’ll be someone else’s turn.”

For “next month” read “next day”.

I went on to argue that the media’s fixation on the personal-cult of leadership, as opposed to the hard-graft of policy-making and the tough choices of decision-taking, is the public’s fault; that we prefer the froth of soap opera to the steel of current affairs. In their comments, Paul Walter and Leo Watkins more optimistically suggested the British public is more high-minded than I gave credit for. I’d like to believe they were right.

But when I come to compile the Lib Dems’ Top of the Blogs Golden Dozen this weekend, I can make a pretty shrewd guess which will have been the most popular postings on the Lib Dem blogs Aggregator – those focusing on whether Ming might be for the chop.