And so we come to Game Theory, and the story that appeared in the FT, Graun and BBC a couple of days ago (on the day of the interview, in fact). I lobbed Vince a nice soft ball, inviting him to make any comments about the story. His response was that he was quite cross about the story’s appearance; he feels that it’s a silly story that has been somewhat manufactured by a journalist who saw some mind maps on a white board in Vince’s office. Vince told us that the mind maps weren’t actually about a hung parliament at all, but were about “economic research”. He regretted that the story had been picked up, because it has apparently “upset a few people”, presumably the party’s press handling wing.
All of which is fine, but it doesn’t entirely explain the story that appeared. I’m quite prepared to accept that the mind maps bit might be wholly unrelated to thinking about a hung parliament, but nevertheless, the story did make itself out to be based on more than just the mind maps thing. So… I dunno what to make of it, really.
Richard was up for another go next, asking about the sale of the Royal Mail: Is now (the bottom of the market) a good time to sell it? Vince was broadly supportive of some of Mandelson’s aims in the legislation he proposed, in particular the correcting of earlier mistakes in the government’s handling of the Royal Mail. He pointed out that the new legislation would mean much less “cherry picking” of the Royal Mail. Vince also feels that there is a role for private capital in the Royal Mail, but not in the Post Office, which should be national. Having sounded not-wholly-unopposed to the government’s plans, however, Vince did say that John Thurso’s series of tests for the legislation probably weren’t going to be met, and that therefore we would likely oppose the legislation. The tests are all the usual Lib Dem stuff about worker shareholding of the Royal Mail, etc.
Next Alix, with the excitement of Howard Dean’s speech still ringing in her ears (and her conference luggage still sat at her feet), was interested to know Vince’s reaction to Dean’s reaction to her question to him.
Ahem. I’ll try that again.
Howard Dean doesn’t really like over-targetting resources, and thinks we need to do everyone the courtesy of at least asking for their vote. What does Vince think about this? Well, it turns out that Vince thinks we’re not running a presidential campaign, and that our FPTP system forces us to ensure a “base” of support, so Dean’s advice could be taken too far. Having said that, Vince seemed in tune with the optimism of Dean’s approach, pointing out that almost all Lib Dem seats were no-hopers at some point, and that usually it’s just a matter of gnawing away until a tipping point arrives. Often, it’s very much down to the right individuals getting things moving. There are many areas where we don’t really have much presence in the way of councillors, and yet we do have a lot of members.
Jo wanted to know what Vince felt was good and bad about the experience of being a PPC. Vince, lest we forget in the glare of his current glory, stood three times for the party before being elected: twice in York, and once in Twickenham, the seat he eventually won. He began this process, he says, quite naive, believing that getting elected was all about making “a few good speeches” and raising a profile that way. He quickly came to appreciate the importance of canvassing, getting out the vote, and all the other bits and bobs that go with winning elections. He emphasised the importance of building a good team – it’s not just an individual effort.
Lastly, Mark asked what Vince’s attitude to his “glamorous appearances” at various dinners was. Were they targetted? Essentially, the answer was that it tends to be “first come, first served”; Vince tries to play the target seats game, but finds it in some ways more interesting and heartwarming to stray from this beaten track and visit the aforementioned local parties with little elected presence, but nevertheless a reasonable membership. Vince is something of an enthusiast for such local parties, and tries to visit them if he can fit it in whilst visiting a target seat, because it’s quite possible that a nice dinner with Vince could be what a local party needs to get itself off the ground.
And on that optimistic note, our time with Vince was almost up, leaving just enough time to take a picture. And here it is, complete with bizarre Portcullis House carpety wall hanging: