Targeting Clegg's family home was plain wrong

Defenders of the UK uncut protest call it a "party". Would they be so relaxed if the far-right copie

As a Liberal, I actively encourage people to demonstrate when they see things they don’t like or approve of. And I love creative demonstrations that make their point in an imaginative way, that get people talking and debating the merits of an argument, whether I happen to agree with that view or not. So it takes quite a lot for me to write that a protest is just plain wrong.

But targeting someone’s children does cross that line. Which is why I think yesterday's UK Uncut demonstration outside Nick Clegg’s home was unjustifiable.

First, interest to declare (beyond the party politics). Someone attacked my home in a very minor way last year. I’m a bit sensitive therefore about this sort of thing.

So when I’m told that this wasn’t a protest, that it wasn’t intimidating, it was a party, I beg to differ. If 400 people turned up for a "party" outside my house, blocking off the roads to prevent anyone getting out, specifically targeting the road because I lived there, I wouldn’t feel especially safe.

And this time it was UK Uncut. Suppose the BNP or EDL decide to do the same? Only in Ed Miliband’s road. Would Sunny Hundal and Laurie Penny still be cheerleading them from the sidelines? Or is this sort of action only OK if you agree with their politics?

And supposing they hadn’t targeted a party leader? Where is the line to be drawn? Mark Serwotka said of the protestors in Clegg’s road yesterday that "we applaud their innovative and inspirational action that takes the campaign right to the doorsteps of those responsible”. Well Mr Serwotka, by your own logic, that makes you fair game for the same treatment does it not? Would you be happy if 400 people turn up at your doorstep for a bit of a fiesta, closing your road and stopping your family leaving the house, because they profoundly disagree with your political views?

Indeed what of the 400 party goers themselves? Each took part in a political act yesterday. Should they be held to the same standards? Are their homes and their kids' schools now fair game. I don’t think so. But by their own logic, they presumably do.

One Tory MP actively encouraged people to donate to the Lib Dems yesterday. But then Louise Mensch knows something about having your kids targeted. Those on the protest in Putney yesterday should think long and hard about the line they crossed. And whether they would really want the same treatment themselves.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.