Thursday, December 15, 2005


Liberal Democrats leadership and Charles Kennedy

On May 6th this year, the Lib Dems celebrated their gains but many felt that with more votes and more seats they might still have done better. Others felt that, even allowing for that, they were in possession of that indefinable yet priceless political asset: momentum. Since then the situation has changed. Blair has faded and seemed more and more a lame duck yet the Conservatives have surged forward with their new charismatic and youthful leader. Momentum seems to have shifted seamlessly to the Tories. Lib Dems are asking themselves the question I put on 25th November: 'when was the last time Kennedy said anything memorable or intervened to good effect?' Answer comes there none. People like Mark Oaten, Vince Cable and, still despite his years, Ming Campbell are still the party members who make an impact on the media. It is hardly surprising that MPs belonging to the third party are getting restive.

It's not just that Charles has not said much, he has not done much either that anyone can point to. Being opposed to Iraq can only take you so far. Lib Dems need a bit of drama, a few teling blows delivered on the government's left flank maybe. And there was that debate on the Queen's Speech which Charlie did not attend, some said because of a mammouth drinking session the day before. Being laid back plays well during election time- he can appear to be normal and sensible in contrast to the high pitched rhetoric of the big parties- but during normal 'peace-time' conditions a little more intensity is required. He just has not seemed to cut it while the part of the centre ground occupied by his party now faces a brash newcomer in the form of Cameron who outpoints Kennedy on youth-once his key asset- and apparent dynamism.

This is patently unfair as Kennedy was: successful initially as a contrast to the hyperactivity of the dynamo Ashdown; won votes and seats in 2001 and in 2005; and had the good sense to oppose Iraq. What more do Lib Dem MPs want? As they read opinion polls showing falling their ratings, they want action, excitement, some barricades to storm now and again and all they have is 'lazy old Charlie' with a rumoured drinking problem. It may be unfair, Kennedy may have won the right to continue until at least the next election but the genie of criticism in the Lib Dems is now out of the bottle and it won't qietly creep back in. Kennedy has faced down his critics once, but, like IDS in 2003, how often must he do it before his authority and credibility have evapourated?

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