Paranoia of politics
Such is the paranoia of politics. On Thursday we thought we'd been handed that rare Westminster gift: a gaffe on a platter (though in this case for platter read e-mail). Now I'm beginning to wonder.
Ahead of a Clegg-Huhne Lib Dem leadership debate at the weekend, a Huhne office researcher had helpfully sent us a briefing note on the policy differences between the two contenders. It was entitled "Calamity Clegg".
So much for positive politics and one party united for liberalism. Instead here was one camp united in bitterness against the other, openly lambasting them as a disaster, a flip-flop candidate who couldn't make his mind up one week to the next. Poor naive researcher, sure. And we felt for her. Briefly. But thank you God - this was too good an opportunity to miss.
Could we reasonably reveal the contents of the e-mail? You bet - it hadn't been sent as an off-the-record document and hadn't even been directly solicited. And it threw light on what one candidate's team really thought.
Maybe, mused our presenter Jon Sopel, we'd get Chris Huhne to apologise publicly on air for such a personal attack?
Not a bit of it. Instead Nick Clegg looked alternately surprised, aghast, irritated and finally insulted as Chris Huhne meticulously disassociated himself from the contents of the e-mail and then proceeded to lift attack phrases from it. (You can watch the debate here.)
And the daggers were still there in the green room afterwards - the potential stab in the back made all the easier by an apparent determination not to look at, let alone talk to, each other.
So, a thoroughly bad day for the Lib Dems? Perhaps. But winning is everything and I've been wondering if it was all a cunning plan and we were the stooges. Flick through the newspaper coverage yesterday - what's the phrase that sticks in the mind from every broadsheet and half the tabloids? Huhne apologetic? Huhne red-faced? Huhne humbled? Nope. Calamity Clegg. You might think that's as good as a free press release from the Huhne camp to the one in 1000 of you who'll be eligible to vote in the contest from this week.
I would ask the Lib Dem researcher - but either way I'm guessing she couldn't possibly comment.