Last week saw the regular spectacle of various people cooing over a list of ‘the most influential Liberal Democrats’ compiled by someone who has nothing to do with the party and seemed to be little more than a list of ‘Liberal Democrats I’ve heard of’ coupled to a random number generator. While the sensible reaction to that would be to draw up an alternative list with a properly defined ranking system that’s open to scrutiny and challenge, it would also be the time-consuming one, so I chose to do something silly instead.
And thus, I present to you the five people who could potentially have the most influence on the Liberal Democrats if the stars were to align the right way, it was a slow news day and/or our understanding of the way the world works turns out to be a bit flawed. So, without further ado:
5: Professor Green
Best known as the answer to the question ‘what if they made a remake of The Fly where Eminem was mashed together with Danny Dyer’, Professor Green is exactly the sort of name someone in the Campaigns Department would come up when told to organise a meeting between Nick Clegg and a representative of ‘youth culture’. This is the sort of thing that normally leads to a picture of a bored rapper and a tieless Deputy Prime Minister appearing on page 17 of a couple of papers the next day before being swiftly forgotten about, however we have to remember that one of the two people involved in this imaginary meeting has fifteen times more Twitter followers than the other.
It’s only take one ‘I’d got to nandos with him’ tweet from Professor Green to suddenly make people think Nick Clegg had made a connection with the people again. This would then cue a whole lot of of Lib Dem Voice posts with people falling over themselves to show how they’re ‘down with the rap’ and explaining just how they’ve always enjoyed it. It would cue some very embarrassing days for the party, ending only when Professor Green tweeted. ‘Yeah, nandos with Clegg, but only if he’s paying from his expenses, right? Nothing else, though.’
4: A person accidentally injured by Nick Clegg
Accidents happen, but some of us seem to be more accident-prone than others. Thankfully, the party seems to have stuck to merely political accidents so far, but it surely can’t be long until Nick Clegg’s luck runs out and he accidentally injures someone. It might be a glancing blow from an official car, a comedy mishap with a patio door and a window cleaner or a Jeremy Hunt-esque incident with a prop.
Whoever they may be, and however the injury occurs, the laws of twenty-first century politics ensure that they’ll have their period of fame/notoriety as a result of it. This will then inspire lots of deep thoughts about what Injured Person means in contemporary politics. If this person actually manages to have some political views after their injury, then – following the example of Gillian Duffy – expect them to be treated with the seriousness one would expect of the return of Conrad Russell from beyond the grave. One tiny accident could alter the course of the party forever.
3: Ricky Gervais
Depending on your perspective, Ricky Gervais is either a challenging comedian who forces us to confront sacred cows through the medium of satire or an offensive bigoted bully who hides behind ‘God, can’t you take a joke?’ when someone highlights his bigotry and then sets his Twitter followers on people who dare to question him.
This behaviour is oddly reminiscent of some of the more right wing Liberal Democrats who like to claim they’re pushing forward a dynamic libertarian agenda while challenging the sacred cows of social democracy that have contaminated the purity of liberalism. However, others see them as idiotic Randroids who think reading Atlas Shrugged has made them a philosopher rather than just a useful idiot for the undeclared donors who are funding their ‘think’ tank sinecure.
Now, imagine that these two forces somehow combine and we suddenly find ourselves having to debate just why rich white people who earn millions in the media aren’t now an oppressed minority because someone pointed out they haven’t told a funny joke for several years. Frightening, isn’t it? Yet there’s a synergy there, and one day someone could exploit it.
2: An animatronic John Stuart Mill
If you’re in a debate with a fellow party member and feel like you’re losing, one surefire trump card you can play is quoting from On Liberty. (Note: if your opponent has actually read On Liberty, this might not work, though you can surprise some people by revealing that Mill wrote other books too). The Argumentum Ad Millium is a well-known Liberal Democrat debating flourish, and normally works as a reverse Godwin, allowing the quoter to claim victory, given that many party members do regard his works as akin to holy writ.
Of course, Mill himself is not around to take part in these debates himself, but what if a simulacra of him could? Someone who had control of the animatronic Mill could introduce the man himself into debates and guarantee that their policy positions would be adopted – at least until the rudimentary AI within it gained sentience and went on a rampage through Conference. However, assuming one could retain control of the robotic philosopher, then Conference debates could become mercifully shorter, requiring merely a proposer from the motion and then a statement from the robot as to whether it agreed or not.
One other implication of the possibility of working simulacra would be James Graham revealing that his departure from the party was to spend more time building his Henry George replica, of course. Mill vs George could be the Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla of twenty-first century political thought, for people who enjoy battles between animatronic philosophers.
1: Tom Baker
There’s only one thing that can bind Liberal Democrats closer together than On Liberty, and that’s Doctor Who. It’s a well-known phenomenon that any lull in a Conference conversation can be bridged by asking ‘so, what did you think of [insert name of most recent episode]?’ The Federal Conference Committee was criticised for many things at the recent Brighton Conference, but their most egregious error was scheduling the Rally to clash with the broadcast of The Power Of Three.
But, while the programme as a whole has a big influence on Liberal Democrats, none of the Doctors themselves have yet used the power that implies. For some of the Doctors, it’s obvious why not – Tennant and Davison are both noted Labour supporters, while Matt Smith’s influence over the party has waned since his second series coincided with the Liberal Democrats losing control of his home town of Northampton. So, that cuts down the field a lot, and while there are factions within the Liberal Democrats that follow other Doctors, it’s clear that Tom would be the only one mad enough to come out and declare that he’s a Lib Dem.
Obviously, Tom Baker is never one for a quiet life, so were he to take that step, it’s clear he’d be the most influential member of the party – partly because no one else would be able to interrupt him, unless and until Brian Blessed joined the party, and partly because so many party members are conditioned to believe that if the Doctor says it, then it must be right. He’d be President within a few months, and find himself either ennobled or selected as the candidate for a safe seat not long after that. Beyond that? Who knows, but this is a man who’s been President of Gallifrey so could even Parliament contain him?
And there you have it, a listing of Liberal Democrat influencers at least as accurate as anything you’ll read in the Telegraph. Look out for an update on this at some time in the future, if I ever get really bored, or can convince a newspaper that I know what I’m talking about.