Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Menzies Falls

I liked Menzies Campbell, but was torn about him because there was that sense he could not do it, and a real fear that the Liberal Democrats would go backwards. The LD worthies wanted Ming to win the leadership, but it was the wrong choice - probably, and the probably turned out to be so. I am as much a Liberal Democrat as is possible to be without actually joining up. I consistently like their policies, though I think they are overdoing the green thing - green taxes could be regressive taxes, for example.

One of two skills would have saved him. One was a good performer in the House of Commons. He did often pick the right subject, but it lacked delivery. You could tell how hard he was trying, with his increasingly pithy questions, but it looked like he was trying hard. The other was a reach into the public in a way Charles Kennedy achieved. Kennedy was not rated in the House of Commons, but he could beat many a politician outside. Yet Charles Kennedy could not be imagined as a Prime Minister. You could imagine Menzies Campbell as a Prime Minister, but he seemed to be ten years too late at least, and lacked that charisma of draw. Yes he did preside over a very good Scottish by-election, but he did not have general appeal. Unlike the other two leaders, he hardly benefited from the party conference. I imagined the next election, with seats lost, and Campbell resigning, and all for what?

Campbell did intend to run to the election in two or so years time. I don't agree that it was all based round an election sooner rather than later. I think Campbell would have done better in an election soon than in these recent polls, and would have used the professionalism put into the party, and his building a team, and his own position. Yet once Gordon Brown did his 31 years later version of "waiting at the church", the spotlight fell on to Menzies Campbell.

In policy terms Iraq Campbell's main success was also his untimely millstone around the neck; once Brown started withdrawing more troops and showed an intention to close Iraq down from a British point of view (spinning of course, but reductions would be shown) Campbell lost his main policy punch. It was as if that was his job, foreign affairs, and that was that. There was more than that, with solidity elsewhere too, but it sounded like yesterday's record.

However the Liberal Democrats do not mess about. Campbell could see the writing on the wall when the light fell on him. He knew that the delayed election cut the ground from under him. Once he has to go, he goes quickly. It is payment by results, and the sack comes swiftly. The Liberal Democrats have developed a ruthless streak for the leader, for by-elections and for marginal seats.

Interesting how he has left - by not saying anything. He's gone home, no doubt to transfer to another kind of life. Well it falls on to the Acting Leader to have long days (Vince Cable is very impressive, but exactly the same reasons prevents him being an actual leader - David Steel is right that Menzies Campbell at the resignation of Kennedy should have been only acting leader) . Of the contenders, I still think Chris Huhne is the strategist, from a business background. Nick Clegg seems to be OK but may be too telegenic and lack gravitas. Huhne could be regarded as an effective leader, and he may just have the breadth of a political vision to mark out a future strategy. He may be able to make Brown look old-school and Cameron vacuous.

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