Should the Lib Dems battle to be distinctive?

On the ground at the Lib Dem party conference

Lots of meet and greet today, and excessive use of that classic conference greeting style of enthusiastic "Hellos!" to someone while looking over their shoulder. It's larger but feels much the same as last year, a family getting together for a special occasion.

There may well be a tiff by the time the main course is served and the great auntie (former leader) says a little too loudly that she never liked that new son-in-law Cameron, but there is no sign of it so far. Pity the broadcast media, who are being regularly asked by their newsrooms, "Have you found the anger yet?" knowing that if they say, "No sign of it so far" they will inevitably be knocked off evening bulletins and their weekend in Liverpool will be wasted.

The genuine signs of real debate are around the issue of whether or not to be distinctive. How much do we celebrate our separateness in government versus how much do we argue that this is a fully integrated team? Nick Clegg in the Independent today is clear:

It is not a game of parallel shopping lists. What is emerging is something much more interesting – a mix, a blend of things.

Contrast that with the calls by Liberator Magazine to the left and Mark Littlewood, their usual nemesis, so far to the right that he quit the party a while ago. Both argue that showing distinctiveness is critical. Reading the runes, it is possible to suggest that Vince Cable also agrees with that view.

So what is the correct answer? Celebrate the differences? Or talk about the team? I suspect that the Holy Grail of "being distinctive" at a national rather than local level is far less realisable than people think. In pure communications terms, it requires time and resources, which are in short supply.

If you are a special adviser spending all your time putting out the fires of distinctiveness, is that time that would be better spent on getting on with the governing? Perhaps this is something that comes at the end of a five-year term, not the beginning. In the bars of Liverpool tonight, this eclectic family will be getting together to solve this issue.

Olly Grender is a political consultant. She was director of communications for the Liberal Democrats between 1990 and 1995

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Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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