Well, Lembit won’t answer my questions, but he is keen to talk to politics.co.uk, where he criticises the party for “fear of standing out” and portraying its policies in “pastel shades” (I know there are people out there who criticise Lembit’s talk about “pastel shades” as being misogynist but I have a more fundamental objection: what the hell does it mean?). He also claims that:
“a good president turns up the volume of messages decided by the leadership.”
Leaving aside the unfortunate Iain Duncan Smithism, is that actually true? Is it really the role of the leader to sit back and determine the messages, and the president to be the one campaigning at the front? This suggests a significant redefinition of the role, in which the leader and president compete for air time. I’m not sure I want to see that happen.
But fundamentally, where, please, has Lembit been able to demonstrate this ability? Linda Jack is currently running down her 101 facts you may not know about Lembit. There are some duplicates there, but this is fair enough. By all accounts, when it comes to Northern Ireland for instance, Lembit has done a lot of good work behind the scenes. But why does Linda Jack need to tell us all this if Lembit is so great at putting his best foot forward? And where is the tangible evidence of him making headway front of house?
I’ve already mentioned his tenure as leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, during which time the party has been stuck with 6 AMs and actually decreased its regional list vote. Lembit of course prefers to concentrate on the doubling of our Welsh MPs during the 2005 general election, but that was a campaign he was far less centrally involved in.
But I could also cite the example of his role as housing spokesperson. During a time when repossessions have been on the rise, this is an issue the Lib Dems could have been making real headway on. So where is the evidence? As I wrote in Comment is Free last month, during one of the housing debates at party conference, Lembit was outside of the conference centre wowing crowds with his segway skills. The only housing issue I’ve ever seen him take a stance on is eco-towns; great if you happen to be in one of the few areas where the building of one is an issue, but pretty useless if you live anywhere else.
The point is, Lembit has a pretty patchy record when it comes to using the various party positions he has had over the years to actually make an impact, and this is entirely relevant both to the role of President and the direction he claims to want to take it. The fact that he won’t answer them speaks volumes. If you think it is time he answered them, then join my new Facebook group, and get others to do the same.
The questions he has yet to answer are:
a) Since Lembit claims to have such great campaigning and communications skills, why have the Liberal Democrats in Wales stagnated in the last two assembly elections (sticking with six AMs in 1999, 2003 and 2007)?
b) Given the deep problems at the heart of the Kennedy leadership, wasn’t it an error of judgment to stand by him? Loyalty is easy â€“ a nodding dog at the back of a car can do it. Don’t the “rebels” â€“ including Nick Clegg and Vince Cable â€“ deserve credit for taking a difficult decision that Lembit lacked the resolve to take?
c) Why didn’t Lembit stand against Simon Hughes in 2006? Hughes presided over a string of failures, most notoriously watching the party’s membership fall by 10,000 members despite having pledged to treble the membership in two years. Again, doesn’t that suggest a lack of resolve?
d) Why wasn’t Lembit’s campaign ready in Bournemouth? Frankly, it was a total mess. Ros Scott launched her campaign exactly 12 months before, so it isn’t as if Lembit didn’t know she was serious. Is this the level of professionalism we can expect from him? Don’t actions speak louder than words?