It’s very frustrating to be busy at a time when major events you have a personal state in are going on elsewhere. I only heard about Charles’ resignation yesterday by text message and even then it wasn’t clear at first that he’d even resigned.
I haven’t had a chance to read all the various blog entries on the subject, suffice to say that it became clear that the consensus in the blogosphere is that a) we’d reached a point where he had to go and b) it was all terribly sad.
The question is, where do we go from here? The whole debacle has damaged the party in a major way, with the assassin’s cack-handed attempts followed by Charles’ refusal to see the writing on the wall. The Cable 11 should be absolutely ashamed of themselves (I have more time for the other members of the subsequent 25 petitioners who were simply facing up to the inevitable). Their action came at the wrong time – being seen as a panic response to David Cameron – and was done in completely the wrong way – sitting on a signed letter for three weeks. While I’m not suggesting that they should all be demoted, I wouldn’t trust a single one of them with any responsibility over the strategic direction of the party.
The big question at the moment is whether to have an open contest or a coronation. Personally, despite being unenthused by any of the potential contestants, I think the latter would be the worst possible conclusion to this mess. The all-member ballot is the best single way a party has to lance the boil resulting from a nasty act of regicide and the killers certainly shouldn’t be allowed to hand pick their chosen successor. I’m quite sure that if the Tories had had an all member ballot after Thatcher they wouldn’t have spent the following decade-and-a-half floundering; we can’t afford to do the same.
But another lesson that I feel needs to be learnt is that while the parliamentary party has a vital role to play and should be respected, it can’t be trusted to run everything. Despite Charles’ sudden conversion to internal party democracy 4 days ago, it has to be said that his regime was fairly contemptuous of the idea. Despite the veneer of the Meeting the Challenge exercise, two major policy announcements (on tax and pensions) were announced last year without even recourse to the party’s Federal Policy Committee. This, following Charles’ declaration after the May elections to end the party’s system of policy making by conference. The Federal Executive has become an even less meaningful body, with all significant strategic and administrative decisions being taken by a small, partly anonymous, cabal.
That cabal has found itself to be seriously wanting in recent months.
Bizarrely, it isn’t even as simple as the Parliamentary Party taking things over; they largely feel left out as well.
So yes, we need a proper leadership election. But the new leader needs to appreciate the importance of partnership. The party’s formal decision making structures need to be reasserted and their composition needs to be reviewed.
For instance, MPs are excluded from being directly elected onto federal committees, although they are allowed a couple of nominees. This may have made sense 7 years ago when there was much more of a sense of Us versus Them within the party, but it is ludicrous with a large and diverse parliamentary party as we have now.
And if we are to have regime change, it has to be much wider than just the figurehead. The same core team ran the 2005 election campaign as the 2001 election campaign. The wheels were already beginning to look as if they were coming off last year, and yet the signals from the top have been “business as usual”. This isn’t acceptable. It isn’t just leaders who become tired and intolerant of new ideas. We need fresh blood at strategic points across the party who are not afraid to sacrifice even the most sacred of cows.
Finally, could Lembit Opik please shut the fuck up? For all his expressions of deep loyalty to Charles, how come it was widely known that he was backing Mark Oaten prior to Kennedy’s resignation, as confirmed yesterday. This is an extremely cynical attempt to boost his preferred candidate by assuming the moral high ground. I suspect it will win him few friends.