I do not know what has left me more SHOCKED: the suddenness of Sir Mr the Merciless' departure, or the speed with which I have found myself being talked up as a potential PARTY LEADER alongside Mr Clogg and Mr Hewn.
(Within minutes of the announcement, Mr Kiss-me Guru-Murphy was trying to get me "live" on the Channel Four News, and know-nothing numbskull Mr Nick "Mate of Dave" Robinson wanted me on Parson's Green for the "Ten".)
But I have to ask: if 66 is too OLD to lead a political party, is 7 [R: 6] too YOUNG?
Personally, I almost fell off my sofa: I thought Sir Ming was In-Vince-ible… until Mr VINCE did him IN!
On the other fluffy foot, at least our very own TERRACOTTA WARRIOR Mr Hugs has agreed to be INTERRED with the Emperor Ming.
So, what WOULD I do if I really DID become Leader of the Liberal Democrats?
Well, it seems to me that there are several urgent tasks to get on with.
First things first, we MUST massively increase our public profile. Everyone seems to agree that Sir Mr the Merciless suffered DEATH BY MEDIA – his leadership ended up SUFFOCATED by lack of coverage. It is not IMMODEST to admit that I am very CUTE – and I am VERY good at sitting on my sofa, a large part of today's daytime media duties for the busy party leader – but there is only so far that a fluffy face will carry you in the world today.
We need a press team that can create a BUZZ, and that can BLITZ THE PRESS into attending OUR events, and covering them the way that they cover Mr Balloon's stunts. Not that we should DO stunts, as such, but we should plan to be more STARTLING: launch our Nuclear Policy from the Greenham Common Peace Camp or our prison plans from a young offenders institution; see lovely Sarah Teather and me climb to the top of a HUGE Wind Turbine in Scotland or watch me and Captain Ashdown parachute into Afghanistan with emergency medical supplies…
It would mean a larger team, and that means more volunteers, maybe some sort of INTERN scheme. With today's technology, a large team DON'T all have to be in Cowley Street: e-mail, instant messaging and telephone conferencing can all play their part in keeping people briefed.
But we need them to be chasing down the news – especially the BBC – when they don't give us coverage and when they get things wrong. And we want to be GOOD when they give us balanced coverage, reward them with the good interview, the interesting story. We want for them to be HAPPIEST when they just need to phone up the Liberal Democrats and we have the informed comment that they want.
What happens at the moment? Mr Frown fails to call an election, the Conservatories' polls go up and our polls go down. From THIS (39:33:19) to THIS (36:43:14).
Quite simply: THAT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. Good journalists shouldn't be satisfied with just reporting that, but we need to help them make the story.
The pat explanation that "it's a third party squeeze" is NOT an explanation at all: it is just DESCRIBING THE SYMPTOMS in a different way.
The Conservatories have announced ONE policy – a cut in Inheritance Tax. We announced LOTS of policies, but MOST IMPORTANTLY we announced a FOUR PENCE CUT IN INCOME TAX.
If people are switching their votes because of a TAX CUT then OURS is a LOT BETTER than theirs.
(Which would YOU rather have? More money maybe when Granny dies, if she's RICH, or 20% less Income Tax RIGHT NOW?)
Therefore the media's explanation for the poll shift is WRONG and we need to be challenging that.
What are the issues that are ACTUALLY of concern to people? Families that think they are being PENALISED by the benefits system just because they are MARRIED – do they KNOW that Liberal Democrat policy is to make sure everyone is treated fairly? No, of course not. We need people to know that we are the "fair deal" party. People who are too FRIGHTENED to go out on the streets – do they KNOW that Liberal Democrat Councils have a fantastic record of success in tackling anti-social behaviour. Do they know that we want to recruit thousands of extra police AND let them get on with their job, not fill in forms. No, of course not. We need people to know that we are the "freedom from fear" party.
We have a TERRIFIC policy platform, and when people ACTUALLY HEAR our policies lots of them realise that actually they are Liberals too. More than that, we have terrific strength right here in the Lib Dem blogosphere for forensic analysis, pithy comment and rapid response. Let's really USE that resource.
The important thing for us is to BE HEARD – get us a FAIR SHARE of coverage and we are halfway to victory.
But we mustn't forget the Party's most IMPORTANT asset: its members.
Sir Mr the Merciless has revitalised the party in Parliament, but I would want to get out there and re-energise the activists, meet with as many local parties as possible. After a second leadership challenge, I bet the party's loyal workers will be feeling a bit shell-shocked and a bit nervous about the future and a bit uncertain about this new fluffy elephant who has come from nowhere. So I will want to make sure that they know that THEY are the important ones, and that they are being LISTENED TOO, and that their new leader is NOT AFRAID of getting his big fluffy nose stuck in a few LETTERBOXES on the front lines with them.
Even with more than two years to the election, that's only a-hundred-and-some weeks, giving a good meeting to one local party a week is still only going to cover our top targets. We need to move from local campaigning to SMART campaigning – we need better lines of COMMUNICATION between the local parties and regions and the leaders office, so that we will make the best use of MY time and YOUR time.
I would want to use the tools of technology to give members a greater input into the party's national activities – the campaigns that we choose to press, the issues we support, even the questions at Prime Monster's Questionable Time.
Ah, yes, Prime Monster's Questionable Time – I am going to need some sort of GREEN LEATHER HIGH-CHAIR.
What we COULD do is set up greater feedback between the membership and the leader – they can raise the issues that they really want put to the Prime Monster; I can explain why I chose to go with one question rather than another, and what I thought of the Prime Monster's reply – if he actually gave one!
But Questionable Time is a bit of a JOKE really, a pantomime battle that usually only makes you look stupid. Sadly.
Many people think that the world made up its mind about Sir Mr the Merciless at that every first QT when he stumbled over a heckler. And while it is true that Questionable Time is not as important to real people as those watching would like to believe, it is ALSO true that first impressions last, especially among opinion formers like the sketch-writers. One important thing to remember is always to begin with offering CONDOLENCES to the families of soldiers lost in the wars. It is important that Parliament remember each week that people are dying because they voted for it.
I think that we should adopt Mr Jonny's idea: the Prime Monster should continue to have to answer questions from BACK-BENCHERS… but once a week, ON TELEVISION, he would sit down with Mr Balloon and me and we would ask him questions. (To be fair, Mr Frown should also be able to challenge us to say what we would do differently.) We ALL know the tricks that politicians can use to avoid answering tricky questions in an interview… which would mean that we can any of us point them out when they are used.
It might, just MIGHT, mean there was less posturing and shouting and more discussion of things that actually matter. When are our soldiers coming home? What are we doing about Foot and Mouth, and when will farmers be able to sell their sheeps and cows? What evidence is there – if any – that taking away our civil liberties has made ANY difference to the terror threat? How much have I.D.iot cards cost THIS WEEK?
If we can ask some questions about the issues, it could genuinely lead to a national debate, rather than a silly slanging match once a week and media interviews about personality rather than policy.
Because we need to reach out, way out, beyond our own comfort zones to the huge numbers of voters, often young voters, who don't vote.
If Mr Wedgy Benn, at the age of a-thousand-and-three, can fill a theatre for a talk about politics then so can I. I've got to! It's not that people out there aren't interested; it's just that they think we're not listening.
It's like Europe, and the new European Treaty. People WANT to join the debate – and fair enough it MAY just be to vote against Europe by proxy, but (and I've said this before) if we trust the people then sometimes we've just got to take it on the chin. We should SUPPORT calls for a referendum on the new treaty. And we should go out there and try to WIN the argument, not duck the fight.
You think that is an EASY WIN for Mr Balloon? Not a bit of it – we are united on Europe in a way that the Conservatories can NEVER be. The more we talk about Europe, the more opportunities they have to TEAR THEMSELVES TO PIECES. (You KNOW they're just gagging to do so!)
I think that Sir Mr the Merciless OUTSMARTED the Media in the end. Once those QUESTIONS of leadership have been raised, they tend to stick around like bad smells. Mr Balloon would do well to remember that – Mr Oboe may have covered them up with a WHOLE CAN of Ozone unfriendly AIR-FRESHENER (Inheritance Tax Lily Fragrance, naturally) but they will soon come back once his big poll lead dips again.
Sir M cut the Gordian Knot – or more appropriately the "Gordon" Knot – by going in his own time. Not a ditherer he. Like many other Liberal Democrats, I say we can be proud of his honour and dignity. Instead of letting them get ugly, he has left many of the papers IMPRESSED with his integrity. He has turned ADVERSITY into OPPORTUNITY!
Now we need to rally to a new leader, one who can reach out and grasp that opportunity with a FLUFFY FOOT!
With your support I will lead us into the next FIFTEEN general elections!
Vote early, vote often, vote elephant!