Nick Clegg: Accidentally-on-Purpose

Reading the reports of Nick Clegg’s unsteady Deputy Prime Minister’s Question Time performance yesterday, I wonder if his gaffes were as accidental as is being reported.
He ‘mispoke’ on two occasions:  First, he announced that the Yarl’s Wood detention centre will be closed down, only to have to clarify that it would only be the (horrendous) familiy detention unit that will be abolished.  Second, he referred to the “illegal invasion of Iraq” at the despatch-box in the House of Commons.  Government press officers spent the rest of the day trying to conjour up a new constitutional convention that would distinguish between Clegg’s “personal” view and the government line.
Everyone is discussing Clegg’s political ineptitude, but I wonder if he has pulled off a clever feint that shifts the political debate on these two issues firmly in favour of his long held views.  Closing Yarls Wood is surely a Liberal priority, so I suppose that his words could be described as a Freudian slip.  But clarifying that an unpopular or morally questionable government policy will continue, rather has the effect of re-opening the debate as to whether it should continue.  Clegg has given this question much greater prominence, and surely both Liberals and liberals will welcome that.
I am reminded of the fantastic stunt pulled by The Yes Men a few years ago.  Adopting a tactic of “impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them” the group went on TV pretending to be representatives of Dow/Union Carbide, and took full responsibility for the Bhopal Disaster.  Dow had to issue a retraction, saying that they would not take responsibility for the disaster.
Meanwhile, Clegg’s “illegal” gaffe reminds me of a tactic employed by Josiah Bartlett, the West Wing‘s fictional President.  In Season 3, Bartlett accidentally-on-purpose calls his election opponent an idiot.  He takes the political flack and issues an apology, but questions over the other candidate’s intelligence begin to dominate the news cycles for the rest of the week.  Back in real-life, the Deputy Prime Minister is certainly being criticised, but I do not see how it will dent his political capital among the Liberal Democrat MPs and party members.  They believe that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was illegal and it is in their interests to establish this as consensus.  Clegg’s comment unquestionably advances this aim.
So while the conventional wisdom is that Nick Clegg stumbled at his first appearance at the despatch box, it looks to me that he has advanced the Liberal Democrat agenda – at the first available opportunity, no less.


Unfortunately, a busy week at work meant that Blair’s appearance at the Chilcott Inquiry pretty much passed me by.  After The Event news reports confirmed what we all expected anyway – Mr Blair refused to apologise or admit any wrong-doing.
My take:  Put aside for a moment all the issues of legality, post-war planning, the monstrosity of Saddam’s regim, and oil.  (They are huge issues, admittedly… but put them aside anyway).  We are still left with a central dischord, which is this:  Prime Minister Blair’s actual reason for waging to war, is not the reason we were told we were going to war. This is untenable in a democracy, regardless of the ultimate morality of the conflict, of the death we caused.
We, the people, know this.
Tony Blair knows this.
Moreover, we know he knows this. Moreover moreover, he knows we know this.  And we know he knows we know.  And he knows that we know that he knows.  Ad nauseum. Yet, no apology.  It is an insult to everyone’s intelligence.
The issue of Iraq clearly needs a Frost/Nixon moment, where the concerns of the public are at least acknowledged by the ex-leader at the heart of the controversy.  This is unlikely to ever materialise, which is why this is an issue that will continue to fester for a generation, or more.

On 'Open Source Campaigning'

Yesterday at the Blog Nation Event, Dan Hardie gave an account of his experiences running his Iraqi Interpreters campaign. He mentioned my post on Open Source Campaigning, but said he thought that ‘open source’ wasn’t an appropriate label, because you need a heirarchy and a leader to run an effective campaign.
To clarify, I’m not sure that the ideas of ‘leadership’ and ‘open source’ are mutually exclusive. Open Source coding projects tend to have a core team of dedicated developers, but individual tasks to code are farmed out to volunteers. Likewise with Jay Rosen’s ‘open source journalism’ – an editor or lead journalist still writes up the piece, but dozens or hundreds of other journalists are able to perform the many discrete pieces of research required.
So it is with Open Source Campaigning. You still need someone like Dan to lead the campaign and make strategic decisions, but the leg-work can be decimated if the lobbying or writing to individual MPs is shared throughout the network.

Cross-posted at the Liberal Conspiracy website.

interpreting 'betrayal'

The BBC picks up on the betrayal of Iraqi interpreters by the British Government. The Panorama programme is a welcome addition to the campaign, providing more ‘mainstream’ evidence of the danger that these people face. Let us hope that these reports can also convey the urgency of the situation.
What the BBC article doesn’t do is convey the inadequacy of the British response. It is a shame that the Foreign Secretary thinks that the 12 month length-of-service criteria imposed on asylum claimants “gets the balance right“, when some of those who do not meet the criteria are now being terrorised. As I have said before, it is incongruous to impose such criteria on issues of asylum, which must be assessed purely on the basis of need.
Campaign leader Dan Hardie has more on how bureaucracy is stifling the application process, rendering the British ‘help’ pretty useless in tackling the issue. This is not the way to win hearts and minds, although, now we’re out of Basra, one wonders if this is still a priority.