Friday, November 25, 2005


Charles Kennedy: is he up to it?

Arising from my last post, and George Osborne's prediction of a leadership contest within the Liberal Democrat Party, I realized it articulated something I've been feeling for a while. When was the last time Charles Kennedy said anything interesting, arresting or politically significant? I suppose it was the party conference-and how long ago was that?- but even then it was muted and did not cause many or even any ripples. It was more a routine and somewhat tepid rousing of the cadres who were little more than tepid themselves.

At the same time we have seen the emergence of two developments. Firstly the articulation of a 'harder' more market based economic line from the 'Orange Book' authors and enthusiasts like Vince Cable and David Laws. Secondly, the first inklings of a rapport has emerged between Conservatives and such rightward leaning Lib Dems. In the past few months Kennedy has not appeared on the radar of many journalists or even politics 'junkies' like myself. He has been virtually invisible. Maybe the point has been reached when he has lost his ability to even make it onto the radar. Is it really a viable concept to think of Charles Kennedy as a possible Prime Minister? From his own conduct in his office, he does not appear to think so.

But he ran an effective election campaign, it might be said in his defence. Maybe, but did his laid back approach not merely appear preferable to the frenetic, competitive and uncertain styles of Blair and Howard? I wonder if he has the resources to cut it during normal 'peacetime' conditions when making one's presence and views felt is not easy. This is not to say it's impossible, witness the ubiquity on the airwaves of Mark Oaten and the admirable Norman Lamb. Maybe the most impressive Liberal Democrat since Ashdown has been Ming Campbell. This soft spoken Scottish former sprinter was hit by illness when he should have been standing and winning the leadership of his small but potentially important tribe. My conclusion is that Kennedy has had his chance, has served his stint and should now stand aside and let someone take over who is more committed to the fight and more equipped to conduct it. Ming is probably too old now but I for one would like to see him put kn a year or two to make upsome of the ground Kennedy has lost.

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