David Blackburn

Is bad publicity really better than no publicity?

Is bad publicity really better than no publicity?
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The Liberal Democrat's party conference is the one occasion when they are guaranteed what they need most: publicity. This year has seen them dominate the headlines, albeit negatively.

Unashamedly public in-fighting followed Nick Clegg’s extraordinary pronouncement about “savage cuts”. Steve Webb’s rejection of Clegg’s plans to tighten up ‘middle-class benefits’ and Charles Kennedy’s thinly veiled call to arms against the proposed abolition of the pledge to abolish tuition fees were minor squabbles compared to the Mansions tax debacle.

Yesterday, I suggested the proposal was sensible; it isn't. In theory it’s not a bad idea for a targeted super tax (a fiscal expedient necessary for tackling Brown’s deficit), but the Lib Dems have no idea how the tax will be raised or whether there will be exclusions based on the inability to pay. The revelations about the lack of consultation illustrate just how at war the party is with itself and its duopolistic leadership.

The damage continues. Today produced the cream of the crop: Chris Huhne’s planned slur that William Hague was like the skinheads of yesteryear who haunted the Continent’s beer cellars. The head of the anti-Tory attack unit is a very well-educated man of vast extra-political experience, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he planned to allude to the bald and beery Otto von Bismarck. But, as Alex Massie notes, the deluge of negative publicity has confirmed that the Lib Dems are politically hopeless: a party that wields the policy scatter gun so unadvisedly has no more direction or appeal than one that’s ideologically bereft. No publicity would have been better.