13 April 2009

A smear that never was

During the election of a new leader for the new party formed after the merger of the SDP and the Liberal Party in 1988, there was talk of a possible smear that could have gone either way.

Those of us on Paddy Ashdown’s campaign team got wind of the fact that supporters of his opponent, Alan Beith, had recruited a handwriting expert to analyse a sample of Paddy’s writing without revealing whose writing it was - in the hope that it might reveal some character flaw that might damage his chances of winning.

But the expert apparently disappointed them by saying that he/she had never before seen ‘leadership’ jumping so forcibly off the page - which meant that they had more reason to hide the news than to leak it to the media.

Needless to say, we thought this was hilarious, but it did raise the question of whether or not it would be to our advantage to let the media know that the Beith camp had been cooking up a dirty trick that had rebounded on them by showing that our candidate’s handwriting oozed ‘leadership’.

I’m pleased to say that our decision not to leak the story to the press was unanimous.

Two decades later, and in the light of recent smear stories, I find myself wondering whether we would have been quite so virtuous had the polls and projections not already been showing that Paddy was almost certain to win - a luxury not enjoyed by Gordon Brown's entourage.

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