Is this the laziest piece of political journalism ever?

by Stephen Tall on January 5, 2010

Well, no, it’s probably not. But it must at least qualify for the laziest piece of journalism this decade. I refer to today’s Independent article, ‘Clegg faces party backlash over Tory alliance’, by Nigel Morris and Michael Savage. Oh, go on, then, here’s a link if you must; though I begrudge handing them the traffic. The opening para gives a flavour of the kite-flying, unsourced speculation:

Nick Clegg faces a backlash from grassroots Liberal Democrats if he moves his party too close to the Conservatives in a hung parliament.

Well, yes, he probably would. Which is why he won’t. Unless the Tories are prepared to implement key Lib Dem policies. Which they won’t. Can’t put it much clearer, can I?

But back to Messrs Morris and Savage: what evidence do they supply to justify their suggestion that Nick faces a ‘backlash’ from Lib Dem activists?

Three are offered. The first is the most recent LDV readers’ poll result (though they don’t have the grace to acknowledge it): ‘Their centre-left sympathies were made clear in a poll last week which asked activists to choose between Mr Brown and Mr Cameron for Prime Minister after the election. Their verdict was definitive: 58 per cent named the Tory leader as the worst option, with 42 per cent for Mr Brown.’

As I wrote at the time of the 1,000+ readers who voted: ‘I never tire of reminding folk – especially any journos on the look-out for an easy story – [they] may or may not all be Lib Dems.’ The Indy just preferred to assume they are.

The second piece of evidence offered by the Indy was a flawed, misleading, dated poll for the BBC’s Daily Politics which LDV has already debunked in some depth here.

And the final piece of evidence? Some random, de-contextualised quotes from Lib Dem bloggers:

Christopher Lovell, president of Leeds Liberal Youth, said: “A Conservative government will pursue fundamentally different objectives from a Liberal Democrat one and, although there may be an … overlap in policy, many Liberal Democrats would find it hard to support even a small amount of what a Tory government tried to do.”

Jane Watkinson
said: “Both parties are a compromise to what we stand for but, if it came down to it, Labour are closer to our values as we do share common ground in aspects such as constitutional reform and taxes.”

A blogger from Norfolk wrote: “Yawning gaps exist between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories on many issues, and David Cameron knows this. So why did he make his statement?”

(I love, by the way, that the Indy couldn’t even be quite bothered enough to find the identity of the ‘blogger from Norfolk’, who will need no introduction to the Lib Dem blogging community as Nich Starling).

No reason they shouldn’t be quoted, of course: all are fine bloggers. But it’s pushing it to suggest that their quotes – or any of the others that might have been filletted from other blogs – somehow constitute a ‘backlash’ against Nick Clegg.

In short, this was nothing more than an over-hasty, content-free and careless cuttings-job. The Indy can do better, much better. Fortunately they still do, sometimes. So let me finish on a positive note, with this clipping from Steve Richards in today’s same edition, And the first-round winner is… Clegg:

Perhaps the struggle to shape credible election winning messages in a recession explains why Brown and Cameron both stress similarities with the Liberal Democrats. For Nick Clegg there is one tiny danger in the love-in. If voters believe Cameron’s tendentious claim that his party has moved closer to Clegg’s they might find it easier to vote Conservative in seats currently held by the Liberal Democrats. But on the whole Clegg should be jumping with joy at this latest twist.

Cameron and Brown flatter him and the media will take note by paying him more respectful attention. Such flattery has not happened to a leader of a third party before. Blair wooed Paddy Ashdown in 1997, but John Major did not do so. In 1992 neither Kinnock, nor Major showed any public affection for the Lib Dems.

Clegg has both Cameron and Brown taking him seriously. Finally he is in the game. As a significant bonus Labour goes into the election calling for a change in the voting system. Some of Brown’s advisers urge him to make more of this, to declare at every opportunity that if Labour wins this will be the last election under “first past the post”.

Brown cannot bring himself to do so with any great enthusiasms because he is no enthusiast. It does not matter. The commitment is made. … Clegg is the winner of these early skirmishes and he has hardly uttered a word.