Sunday 22 September 2013

Not a case for Sherlock Holmes

Today’s Observer reports that Nick Clegg is to hold an investigation into whether members of his team briefed against Vince Cable before conference.

The matter in question is a briefing given that said that, in a debate on the Glasgow economy motion at an MPs’ awayday, the vote went 55-2 against Cable's unhappiness with it.

This was reported by the media, plainly as the result of an official briefing, though was later the subject of a limited retraction by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, who said:
I am now told that no vote was held after a debate about economic policy at the Lib Dem parliamentary meeting a few weeks ago. However, sources close to both Vince Cable and Nick Clegg agree that the Business Secretary did urge the party to be prepared to relax fiscal policy if the recovery wasn’t sustained. Mr Cable is said to have had the support of just one other Lib Dem MP. Mr Clegg persuaded all the others. So, it was 55 versus 2.
There are several reasons why it is clear that Robinson and his colleagues were misled in a way designed to damage Cable, an idiotic course of action by whoever was responsible since Cable is a major party asset and a public figure in his own right.

The most obvious is that, with David Ward suspended from the party whip over his comments on the Middle East, and Mike Hancock having had the whip removed over matters we need not enter into here, there could not have been 57 MPs present.

Even if there had been, anyone who spoke to a few MPs at conference would be perfectly well aware that a lot more than two prefer Cable’s position to Clegg’s.

Indeed, one MP said the meeting in question had no formal vote but he kept a scorecard of speakers’ sentiments that came out 2:1 in Clegg’s favour – a much more believable ratio and, as one MP put it, “many of those on Clegg’s side were those who still retain ambitions”.

The Observer did not say who was to conduct this inquiry, or what would happen to anyone found to have misbehaved.

Given the frequency with which one name was mentioned at conference, the inquiry may not have very much inquiring to do.

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