Thursday, November 08, 2007

Nick Clegg, what have you sacrificed?

At the time of the last Liberal Democrat leadership election I used my fast-receding chess career to produce an extended metaphor. Let's try another one this time.

Just before I hung my pawns up there was a highly rated junior here in Leicestershire who never really impressed me. Perhaps this was because I first played him when he was very young (and I was at my strongest) and won that game easily.

I played him years later. His play was solid, but all the ideas and initiative came from me. However, I overreached myself at some point and at the end of the evening I was a pawn down without much compensation. There was little point in sending the position for adjudication, so I resigned. And that junior seemed to win all his games like that.

The current leadership election campaign resembles that game. Chris Huhne is me - full of ideas but in danger of overreaching himself. Nick Clegg is the junior - aiming to win without doing very much.

This is also true of Nick's supporters in the blogosphere. They have attacked Chris Huhne's views on Trident and the statement on his campaign website from Chris Clarke without offering much that is positive themselves.

There is nothing wrong with being a good defensive player. The late Tony Miles (Britain's first grandmaster) said that playing the former world champion Anatoly Karpov was like playing a vacuum: slowly your pieces drifted on to bad squares and you lost without ever quite understanding why.

Another great defensive world champion was Tigran Petrosian. After losing a match to him the more aggressive Boris Spassky said that he now realised what a great tactician Petrosian was. He had snuffed out Spassky's attacking chances a couple of moves before he realised they existed.

But the Liberal Democrats don't need a Karpov or a Petrosian: we need a Mikhail Tal (he's the man in the photo above; they say he used to stare at the pieces with those hypnotic eyes until they moved on to the right squares and his ferocious attacks would work) or a Garry Kasparov. We need someone prepared to take risks and sacrifice material in the quest for victory.

So far, burdened by being the clear favourite, Nick Clegg has played in a solid but uninspiring way. This style may be enough to win him the leadership contest, but it would not serve the party well if it persisted into his leadership.

14 comments:

James Graham said...

Echoes exactly my concerns, although I would probably have articulated it in terms of Ticket to Ride.

snc said...

cool blog

Anonymous said...

I have the feeling that Huhne's views, aren't that radical after all, either. Yes, he says that "let's get rid of Trident", that would be radical, if there wouldn't be the small print, "but let's replace it with some smaller nukes". That somehow makes the apparent radicalism commonplace.

Rob said...

The mention of Kasparov in a political context forces me to link to this. I can certainly agree that we need someone like that!

Charlotte Gore said...

I think the problem is that Nick can only spell out a vision, not policies. Hopefully as the campaign goes on and he starts adding more detail we'll have a better sense of how his leadership would change the party. At the moment it's difficult to separate out the existing from the new.

Huhne's got the same problem. His platform seems closer to what we already do and I'm concerned that the voters are currently rejecting us quite categorically.

A dilemma, and for the membership obvious risks whichever way you go.

Bullseye said...

Jonathan

A little unfair I think. Nick's ideas do not all come from Chris,far from it. Infact there is an increasingly sharp difference in emphasis. Chris is appealling the the traditonal comfortable certainties of localism and 'radicalism', while Nick is looking to challenge some of our ideas about the relationship between the state and the individual so that our liberal rhetoric is actually matched by policy priorities.

Nick has articulated his vision well, he has not though laid out a detailed policy prospectus. Which is a good thing. We are a democratic party and the leader should not dictate policy centrally. A candidate should lay out the principles which he wants to base his future agenda on and then when elected work with the party to translate that into a detailed programme. One commitment I would like to see from Nick is a fundamental policy review, so that policies on education and health can get a throrough overhaul if he is elected leader.

Paul Linford said...

Generally speaking I would agree with this - but Clegg did say he would prepared to go to jail rather than carry an ID card, which strikes me as a bit more of an attacking move than you give him credit for.

Anonymous said...

Bullseye - don't think I've ever heard 'radicalism' as a 'comfortable certainty' before!

Your reason for supporting Nick is my reason for being suspiscious.

He keeps using the rhetoric but not saying what direction he actually wants to take us in.

He either doesn't know what policies he thinks the party should adopt on public services or he does know and doesn't want to tell us.

Either way it's not very convincing.

Anonymous said...

You only cite one of Chris' policies as being visionary or 'attacking' trident - but this is the same policy he ran with last time (and of course lost) and also seems to be suspect under close examination, see Phillipe Sands' piece on comment is free. I hardly think posting a provcative endorsement by Chris Clarke which was obviously inappropriate and unwarranted can be seen as a great attacking move; more of a blunder I'd have thought.

Jonathan said...

Bullseye: Nowhere do I say that Nick is taking ideas from Chris. If I believed that the chess analogy would not work.

If I thought Nick were "is looking to challenge some of our ideas about the relationship between the state and the individual so that our liberal rhetoric is actually matched by policy priorities" I would be greatly encouraged.

Can you post some links that show him doing this?

Paul: Fair point, but one aggressive move does not make a successful attack.

Final anonymous commenter: You make my point for me. You support Nick, but all you do is attack Chris. Where are your positive ideas?

Prague said...

Fancy a game

Anonymous said...

Ok Jonathan - Great Repeal Act, earned route to citizenship for irregular migrants, going to prison over ID cards, constantly banging the drum over pupil premiums (and having to face mis-representation for doing so), DNA Database, council tax.

I suppose you could criticse him for attacking the other parties not the existing policies of his own (as of course Chris does on Trident). But that hardly seems a great crime.

Jo Hayes said...

Dear Anonymous: It is the Philippe Sands piece in Comment is Free that is suspect on close examination. Professor Norman Dombey takes it apart in an insightful comment. On my blog I have pointed out an additional defect in Sands' piece.

Anders Hanson said...

Nick Clegg is the junior - aiming to win without doing very much. This is also true of Nick's supporters in the blogosphere. They have attacked Chris Huhne's views on Trident and the statement on his campaign website from Chris Clarke without offering much that is positive themselves.

But surely that isn't the job of bloggers. It is up to the campaign teams to say what each candidate stands for, not those blogging in support of one or the other.

I have done one positive posting on why I think Nick would be good, and I have put up one negative posting over my concerns about Chris' campaigning. Most bloggers have done the same sort of thing in respect of their preferred candidate.

If you want the official policy of each candidate then you should go to the candidate websites.