Daily Archives: 14 December 2005

For the record

In the interest of posterity, and on the basis that the BBC’s article on the subject this time yesterday bore no relation to the one on their website 4 hours later, I thought I’d include their current line here in full:

Under fire Kennedy meets his MPs

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is set to meet his backbench MPs amid criticisms of his performance from some of his senior frontbenchers.

The meeting, a regular and routine one, comes as some senior MPs privately say Mr Kennedy must improve or stand aside.

The leader’s allies have urged the critics to stop “cowardly” briefings.

Mr Kennedy says reports that he wants to step down are wrong, but one senior MP argues he has to decide whether to continue after two elections.

Matthew Taylor, former chairman of the parliamentary party, told BBC News that Mr Kennedy had been a great leader and what happened over the next few years was up to him.

“Any leader is going to contemplate their position after two general election wins with a young family, but that is some decision he will make,” said Mr Taylor.

Concerns about Mr Kennedy’s performance were voiced at a meeting of the Lib Dem “shadow cabinet” on Tuesday, but nobody asked him to resign.

‘Cowardly’

Lib Dem frontbencher Lembit Opik attacked those who were criticising Mr Kennedy via briefings to journalists.

He told BBC News 24: “Why go through the press and brief in what I think is a slightly cowardly way, rather than going directly to the boss and having a conversation with him and moving it forward?”

Mr Opik argued that Mr Kennedy had secured the best result for the party since the 1920s at May’s general election, by winning 62 seats.

Over by Christmas?

Former Liberal leader Lord Steel said the critics should “shut up or put up”.

He said Mr Kennedy had made it clear at a meeting of Lib Dem peers on Wednesday that he would fight on if a leadership election was triggered.

Treasury spokesman Chris Huhne admitted the party was assessing its post-election performance.

“I think we do need to raise our game. I think the environment is a choppier one than it has been up until now,” he said.

But the new MP added: “Charles has been through this before and I am sure he will see them off again.”

One unnamed senior party source told BBC Radio 4’s World At One that Mr Kennedy’s leadership was “holed below the waterline”.

‘On probation’

The source argued it would be better to resolve the issue before Christmas, rather than leaving him badly damaged but in place.

At prime minister’s questions, Conservative leader David Cameron taunted Mr Kennedy and what he called the Lib Dems’ “decapitation strategy” – a reference to the party’s failed attempt to unseat senior Tories at the general election.

Labour and Conservative MPs jeered Mr Kennedy with shouts of “bye, bye Charlie”.

Mr Kennedy was re-elected unopposed as party leader in June, after the general election, but faced speculation about his leadership at the autumn party conference.

Allies and critics agreed after Tuesday’s meeting that Mr Kennedy was now “on probation”.

‘Furious’

But his spokeswoman said: “Charles Kennedy made it clear to the shadow cabinet that he has no intention of standing down as leader as has been wrongly reported in the media and that we will continue to lead the Liberal Democrats into and beyond the next election.”

She said that message would be repeated when he meets the party’s MPs.

Lib Dem leaders can be deposed if a no confidence motion is approved by a majority of the party’s MPs. Candidates in a leadership election have to have the support of at least seven MPs.

Potential alternatives to Mr Kennedy, 46, could be party president Simon Hughes, 54, or foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell, 64.

Mr Kennedy and his officials were furious over reports that he planned to stand down next March – something they branded “total and absolute nonsense”.

They complained to the BBC when broadcaster Andrew Neil said on the This Week programme that he “had it on good authority” that this was Mr Kennedy’s plan.

I’ll be returning to this later tonight – compare and contrast!

Perspective? Please?

What kind of a world do we live in where John Howard can be winning a poll as the “worst abuser of democracy” over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by a factor of 7:1?

I have no brief for Howard, who is extremely bad news and bears considerable responsibility for the riots currently going on in his country. But come on!

It is desperately sad that the Left has degenerated into two factions: one that thinks that Tony Blair is as bad as Hitler and the other that thinks that George Bush is the Second Coming. Anyone who fits anywhere between the two stools is dismissed as that worst of all possible worlds, a liberal.

Socialism has never been more irrelevant than it is now.

Briefing Counter

I’ve been at a lecture and a dinner this evening but before leaving the office I made a mental note to blog about how magnanimous it was of the Lib Dem shadow cabinet, after a “calm and thoughtful meeting” to promise to stop briefing against Charles Kennedy. This was in response to the article posted on the BBC site at around 4pm (some of which can be found here).

Imagine my surprise to learn therefore, via Jonathan Calder, that in the time I’ve been away from my desk, the BBC story has completely changed. The solemn pledge to stop anonymous briefings appears to have lasted precisely 30 whole minutes.

I was going to declare the old story as being Kennedy’s own personal “Pants of Power” moment (notwithstanding the PM’s daily Pants-wearing incidents). Now, however, that all looks rather redundant.

Seriously though, this has gone on for far too long. It’s time to put up or shut up. Making Kennedy damaged goods is all very well, but if you aren’t prepared to stand up and be counted now, you are simply arseing about. The problem, I suspect, is that no-one wants to be another Heseltine – caught holding the bloodied knife and thus rendering themselves unelectable as a future leader. But all this isn’t damaging Kennedy; it’s damaging the party.

UPDATE: Predicably, the Times has done a right number on Kennedy on this issue, even listing the runners and riders for an expected leadership contest. Personally I think they are looking at too narrow a field. And Mark Oaten has “youthful appeal”?! Having bald leaders didn’t exactly do the Tories much good in the recent past.