Why do the Lib Dems suffer so many scandals?

From "Paddy Pantsdown", to Charles Kennedy, Mark Oaten, David Laws and Chris Huhne, the party has often been in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

If it feels as if the Lib Dems suffer a lot of scandals for a small party, it's because they do. To refresh: in 1992, the party's first leader Paddy Ashdown was forced to disclose an affair five years earlier with his secretary Tricia Howard after the tabloids learned of the relationship (prompting the brilliant Sun headline "Paddy Pantsdown"). On 7 January 2006, Charles Kennedy resigned from the same position after announcing that he had sought "professional help" for a "drink problem".

Just two weeks later, Mark Oaten (who had been due to run Kennedy's campaign for re-election) quit as the party's home affairs spokesman after the News of the World revealed that he had an affair with a rent boy. Five days later (it was a surreal month), Simon Hughes announced that he too had had gay relationships despite running a homophobic campaign against Labour candidate Peter Tatchell during the 1983 Bermondsey by-election in which he was presented as "the straight choice" (for which he has since apologised). 

Since entering government, the party has seen one cabinet minister, David Laws, forced to resign for claiming expenses to pay rent to his partner, and another, Chris Huhne, imprisoned for perverting the course of justice by allowing Vicky Pryce to accept speeding points on his behalf. Last year, MP David Ward had the whip withdrawn after writing on Holocaust Memorial Day that he was "saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians", and, most recently, Chris Rennard, the party's former chief executive and elections maestro, was suspended after allegations of sexual harassment.  

Why do the Lib Dems, generally thought of as a dull but worthy bunch, produce such an inordinate number of scandals? Perhaps the most plausible explanation is the lack of scrutiny the party received before entering government. The Laws, Hune and Rennard scandals all have their origins in the years before 2010. Oaten memorably recounted how shocked he was when one of his rent boy's companions recognised him from TV and greeted him with the words "You're Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat MP", prompting him to reportedly reply: "It can't be me, I must have a double. I'm not a politician". No senior Lib Dem frontbencher would attempt this defence today. Another theory put to me by one Westminster source is that "liberals tend to be very permissive and thus more prone to scandal." Whatever the truth, Nick Clegg will surely hope that his party's closet has now finally been purged of skeletons. 

Nick Clegg speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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