Sunday, October 21, 2007

LibDem Leadership race just a beauty contest?

Leadership races are seminal moments for a political party. This is when the policy alternatives that will set the party's direction for an electoral cycle can be debated, where established principles can be questioned, where the very meaning of an entire political movement can be redefined. Or not. Incredibly, in the Liberal Democrat leadership race the key issue has been identified as 'presentation'. So, instead of a battle of ideas it appears that LibDem members face a battle of hairdos. Instead of a showcase on what in means to be a Liberal Democrat, and I for one was quite interested in that cos I've never managed to figure it out, we will presumably see an argument regarding the finer points of conducting a press conference or which brand of face powder makes you look younger on TV. To say that this is astonishing is an understatement, and you have to wonder what they think they are playing at. Apparently, there has been some understanding between the two declared contestants, Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg, to keep the contest clean. Somehow this has translated into not talking about, well, politics, which is an absurdity for a political party leadership contest. It is also a huge missed opportunity. If they don't talk about policy than any value the contest may have had as a showcase for the LibDems will evaporate. This was hardly going to primetime viewing anyway, but now media obscurity beckons. Bluntly, if one of these two guys really wanted the leadership then he would fight an election campaign for it, not engage in farcical shadow-boxing. Otherwise both risk looking like fools.


Anonymous said...

I suppose in one sense it is a bit disappointing that the package tends to get more attention than the substance, but this is nothing new. Every leader, in order to be effective, needs to understand the “likeability” factor; it just CANNOT be compromise by the “respectability” factor. So leadership tends to be a balance of subtlety between getting out the substance without losing out at the packaging (presentation).

Jonathan Frye
Blog: Leadership

Steve Horgan said...

It is possible to do both, and there is a fair amount of evidence that presentation without policy does not work too well. Look at John Howard in Australia, not exactly Mr. Charisma, but a hugely effective politician.