The Lib Dems' 'Smeargate' silence: well-judged or a missed opportunity?

by Stephen Tall on April 15, 2009

Like it or not, there’s no doubting that the political story of the past few days has been Damian McBride’s leaked emails touting various smear stories targeting Tories. Yet visit the Lib Dem website and you will find no mention; tune into the news, you will hear no comments from party spokespersons; read the papers you will find no quotes. The party has blanked the story.

I do not believe for a moment that this is an oversight – doubtless it was a deliberate decision by the Lib Dem leadership and the new director of communications Chris Fox to steer well clear of the story. Perhaps they reckoned any pro-active statements would be seen as rather desperate; after all, this story was never about the Lib Dems or any of our MPs.

Perhaps they reckoned that the story is so unpleasantly toxic it will pollute anyone who comes into contact with it, no matter what their view.

Perhaps they reckoned this story is only a sub-plot of Nick Clegg’s overarching ‘politics is broken’ meme – better to continue the focus, as Nick has today, on the issue of MPs’ expenses: a story we know really does matter to the public and on which Nick has something relevant and distinctive to say.

Or perhaps it’s a combination of all these reasons and more. I find each of them is persuasive in its own right. And whether you agree or not, there’s something for which I am grateful: on this issue at least the party seems to have thought through its media strategy.