Independent political commentator John Rentoul does a neat line in pricking the balloon of journalistic and political hyperbole with his “questions to which the answer is no” series, so it is curious that he has managed to come up with an absurd, over the top conspiracy theory almost entirely devoid of fact today. Writing about Charles Kennedy’s article in the Observer on Sunday in which he poured cold water over the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition, Rentoul speculated:
What was he up to, eh? I can’t help thinking that he thinks he still has a chance of returning to the leadership of the party, the position out of which he believes he was cheated by Sir Menzies Campbell and his bag-carrier, Nick Clegg. Kennedy seems to be positioning himself to lead a Lib Dem rump out of the coalition government when things turn sticky in a few years’ time.
Ooh, maybe. Except for a couple of things:
1) If Kennedy is planning a comeback, somehow he has failed to spend any time ingratiating himself to the party membership. Since resigning as leader, his presence at party conferences has not been particularly high profile. Neither has he made much effort to ingratiate himself in the media (sitting on the This Week sofa for a month notwithstanding). He hasn’t exactly been working the rubber chicken circuit.
2) The general response that I have witnessed to the Kennedy article on Sunday amongst the membership has been one of irritation. It is one thing to oppose the agreement and take a principled stand. I have enormous respect for people who have put their head above the parapet in this way, such as Linda Jack (maybe we should make her leader if it all goes wrong?). It is quite another to express some concerns, sit on one’s hands during the crucial vote itself, write an innuendo-laden article in a national newspaper and then fail to even turn up to the party’s special conference to make your case.
It is entirely possible this coalition will go tits up and the Lib Dems will find themselves adrift. However, one thing that none of us can deny is that we all share responsibility for the decision to enter government. If we do find ourselves looking to find a new leader in a few years time, it is unlikely to go to someone who has simply carped from the sidelines.