Nick Clegg has launched an inquiry into claims that aides have been involved in a "dirty tricks" campaign against his leadership rival Vince Cable.
The Liberal Democrat leader is investigating an allegation that members of the media have been briefed with erroneous information damaging Cable's position in the party.
The move followed an angry complaint from an MP during a meeting of the parliamentary party at last week's Lib Dem conference in Glasgow. The dispute centres on an economic debate held during an away day for Lib Dem MPs last month.
A number of reports, including one by the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson, alleged that Cable lost heavily when he proposed at the event that the government should borrow more, at current very low interest rates, to fund more capital spending. One source, reportedly close to Clegg, told the Sun: "The good doctor has been well and truly put back in his box."I blogged about this "back in his box" comment at the time. What I heard in return amounted to "Well, Matthew Oakeshott started it", which was not particularly encouraging.
Still, I am not sure an inquiry is needed. Can't Nick just tell his people to stop doing it?
There are two other problems with communications from Nick Clegg's office. The Observer quotes one unnamed Lib Dem MP as describing Nick's aides as "the Stasi".
I would not go that far, but the tone of "people close to the Liberal Democrat leader" quoted in the press is often unfortunate. They tend to come over as a little too pleased with themselves, dismissive of the wider party and out of touch with the concerns of those struggling to make it through the economic downturn.
As this is the sort of view those who do not like Nick Clegg tend to take of him, it is precisely the wrong tone for his spokespeople to adopt.
The other problem is identified by Caron:
Our senior sources need to spend their time making sure that we respond quickly enough to major stories like the Go home poster vans or David Miranda’s detention. Two days in each case to get a Liberal Democrat approach out there was about 47 hours too long. That phrase “on message, in volume, over time” applies to them too.
You aren’t doing anything to create a stronger economy in a fairer society enabling everyone to get on in life while you’re giving a completely inaccurate account of a meeting to a journalist.I'll never be as on message as her, but Caron is right to identify a problem in basic competence about the leader's press operation.
I suggest Nick tells his people that they are not Damian McBridge and are not in The West Wing but are there to do what is in many ways a mundane job. And if he has to bring people people in from outside his circle to achieve competence, that will be no bad thing.