Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Ming Thing - Jackgate or Jackdoor?

I have been warned by a pal to count to 1000 before writing this so..........1,2,3,4.........1000!

If you are prepared to dish it you have to be prepared to take it (in my case in spadefuls!) So, I have read carefully the fall out from my mild criticisms of Ming this week - criticisms that others far more important than me had also made, off the record, it has to be said. I certainly didn't expect "Jackgate" - but hoped for more of a "Jackdoor" - an open door to enable us to deal with some of these concerns which lets face it, even if they are only shared by a few percent of the party and 10% of the shadow cabinet, ignoring them could lead us down the same sorry road as 18 months ago with Charles.

I have tried to do a little bit of analysis - in order to learn for myself (and possibly save myself from the metaphorical stocks in the future). I observed what is a common pattern in these things - firstly the "who is she?!" syndrome in an attempt to denigrate my analysis because for example - she was 'only FPC - not FE' presumably had I been FE that would have come out as 'only FE - not MP' and failing that 'only MP not Shadow Cabinet' frankly I find that quite shocking as one of the values I thought I shared with my fellow Lib Dems was one of egalitarianism? If I was the woman who emptied the bins and delivered the leaflets - would I as a consequence forfeit my right to an opinion?

I looked carefully to see if there was anyone who shared my concerns about Ming but felt I shouldn't have aired them. I didn't find them - those with concerns supported me, thanked me for having the guts to speak out and in some cases shared their own despair. Those who thought I was bang out of order thought Ming was doing a grand job - so of course they disagreed with me. Some disagreed with my analysis but respected my right to speak out. So - we have a dilemma it seems to me. We all want to do well in the elections don't we? We'd be a rather sorry excuse for a political party if we didn't. We are where we are, we can't have another leadership election (if my motivation in speaking out had been that I would not have been so mild in my criticism), so surely the aim has to be to get Ming to raise his game (unless of course you are one of those who think he is doing just fine). How to do that? Maybe some training and or coaching would be a good start. Ming is clearly a skilled parliamentarian, orator, lawyer - but has he ever lead anything before? He is clearly comfortable with those of similar standing, particularly if they have had a classical education, but maybe some communication skills training would be helpful for when he has to deal with those of us nearer the bottom of the barrel? He clearly knows his erstwhile portfolio very well and is excellent in most areas to do with crime, the legal system and the constitution, but what about other domestic issues? He gives me the impression he doesn't know much about key domestic issues, such as health, housing, the benefit system (which is fine he can learn) but the problem is he doesn't seem to be interested. So maybe he could take more of an interest in these issues. I have been chastised for using the term 'possibly over promoted' - yes he was elected, including by me (as second preference), as a party we promoted him. We thought he could do the job - but he wasn't tried and tested as a leader - when else has he ever lead anything? This doesn't always matter, some are natural leaders and will fall into the role easily. Remember Neil Kinnock? Before he was elected he looked and sounded like the perfect choice for the Labour party, but when had he been tried and tested in the role? Equally Cameron, I can remember discussing him in his honeymoon period - yes I thought he looked and sounded good - but I cautioned about being too smitten, a leader doesn't only have to be the public face of his or her party s/he also has to be able to lead that party. Leadership skills are not synonymous with great PR skills.

I do accept that leaders need the support of their members, I have tried to give Ming the benefit of the doubt, but I have had these concerns for a long time. At Federal Conference last year I did an interview on the Today programme, I was asked about Ming's leadership and frankly felt very uncomfortable having given an answer that masked all my concerns and tried to be positive - we needed to give him time etc.

So, to those of you who criticised me, I accept your criticisms, just ask you to consider if you would have been as vitriolic had you shared my views? Chris Leslie in particular chastised me over my lack of collective responsibility. This was a particular stinging criticism for someone who has been an active trade unionist as well as party member for so long. So I gave this particular consideration. In my trade union I challenged the leadership through internal mechanisms when I believed that they were colluding with management, or in some cases the Labour Party. Only once did I do this publicly - when my local branch colluded with the leadership of the County Council to try to get a long serving activist sacked. I had evidence that the leader of the council had lied and so I went to the local press. I was castigated for this since I was putting the union facilities agreement at risk and should have been prepared to sacrifice the one member (despite the injustice) for the greater union., sorry I don't work like that, my attitude would have been, (as it was on a previous occasion when as Branch Secretary I was threatened with the same thing) bring it on! In terms of my collective responsibility within the party, I am at a loss to understand where this comes in? Of course shadow cabinet members, who are appointed by the leader, have collective responsibility and should resign if they want to criticise him. However, I was not appointed by the leader to the FPC, I was elected by conference (which I certainly get the impression our current leader would prefer didn't have the powers it does). My accountability is to conference. Given that my strap line was "vote Jack, you won't get the oyster you'll get the irritant that produces the pearl" (!!?) people shouldn't be surprised if I sometimes say things that some people don't like. I made very clear my views and I assume those who voted for me did so because they thought I would represent theirs, as I say on the doorstep, if you don't like me, or what I stand for, don't vote for me - it's called democracy, you have a choice!!!!

So, rant over, back to the naughty corner.................
Luv Cruella


Paul Walter said...

A blog post up to your normal high standard Linda. All along I have been in the "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it" camp on your remarks.

My reference to you as an FPC member did actually include "not an MP etc" also, and, as re-reading the post will demonstrate, did not refer to your right to speak or to be listened to, it was referring to the fact that, in news terms, it was a complete non-story (see James Graham's excellent post

That was not intended to denigrate your right to speak or to be listened to, it was stating a fairly obvious fact - it was only covered in the East Anglian Free Press apart from BBC Online, in August!

When you compare that to the Cameron/Miraj thing it speaks well of our party that people can speak out but it doesn't get blown out of proportion in the press, and there isn't the viriol you get in the other parties.

I repeat that I greatly respect you r right to speak and to be listened to. I just think you are wrong and daft on this subject!

Is that alright?!

And by the way, this business about speaking for other people - what utter nonsense! If they want to speak let them speak - I have never found LibDems backward in coming forward, have you?


Linda Jack said...

Paul, thanks, I appreciate what you say, and also appreciate all the nice things you have said about me! It was a non story, you are right - in fact I was surprised it got picked up at all. I really didn't want to cause a major stir - believe me if I had I would have said something different!!! As I have already said, I hesitated for all the reasons you have given. As for speaking for others, if you read my posts you will see that sentiment has come from some, as well as those who have spoken to me personally. Actually, the fact that so many people briefed off the record kind of indicates that some of our fellow Lib Dems DO have a problem speaking out! So, I also respect your right to think me daft.........maybe, but why break the habit of a lifetime!!!!

Paul Walter said...

Thanks - all the best :-)

James Graham said...

Like Paul, I don't question your right to speak out (perhaps your wisdom...) - I simply question why it was newsworthy. However, I think you are being a little disingenuous when you claim that you gave Ming a chance. You are on record for first making that claim when he had been leader for a month. I don't think a month is long enough to decide on someone's leadership. You get full marks for consistency, but score very poorly in terms of having a genuinely open mind.

Linda Jack said...

Actually James, you are right - I have had a look and I was saying much the same thing when I was getting frustrated with Ming's early performances. I suppose the reason I said I gave him a chance was that I did genuinely keep trying to find something positive about his leadership,you will find that after my comments about the caretaker in the cupboard, I said nothing more until after Federal Conference, when the knives were out for Simon. My next comments were a genuine attempt to look for the positive and yet again point up the areas for "development" - remember up until then my only knowledge of him was based on the media and his performances at hustings. Since being on FPC of course I have had more chance to challenge my own assumptions. Maybe to the outsider it looks like being disengenuous, you may be right, to me it was a genuine internal struggle, so I guess when I made the comment of giving him a chance that was what I was thinking of.