Tag Archives: pant-watch

I should have stayed on holiday

Another one of those days of frantic media speculation about Kennedy’s leadership, with Charles due to make a statement in a few minutes (apparently about allegations related to alcohol abuse rather than a resignation, but we shall see).

I’ll resist the temptation to say too much until I’ve heard the statement. Except to say, for fuck’s sake! This has got to be the most inept political assassination in history, with no decisive killing blow, no clear successor, the clear perception that it is a panic reaction to Cameron and, in general, a random lurch from one thing to the next. This is Julius Caesar, with the Keystone Cops playing the senators and tripping over their togas.

As of this moment, the only person I’m convinced is in any way fit to lead the Lib Dems is Charles Kennedy. The rest are an utter shower.

Groundhog Day

Well, positives first; at least the BBC story didn’t change much, although they’ve now added a post-meeting write up. We are to believe that everything is now sweetness and light, with the very clear exception of Menzies Campbell (see Nick Robinson’s interview with Kennedy for more light on this).

The question is, where are we now? Charles’ critics have had the opportunity to put up or shut up. They’ve opted to shut up, but for how long this time? Is no-one, not even the lowliest and most disgruntled backbencher, prepared to speak up? If not, then what the fuck has been the point of the past 3 days or so?

Nothing I’ve seen tonight suggests we are anywhere close to seeing a resolution on this issue. The noises off have been sent the signal that Kennedy can’t afford to sack them while Kennedy has been sent the signal that the noises off can’t afford to stand up to him.

The bottom line is that there is no-one in the Lib Dem Parliamentary Party that is of both sufficient calibre or has sufficient experience to in any way challenge Charles; they’ve demonstrated this this week. There is no Hughes, Oaten, Davey or Campbell bandwagon rolling because the first three just don’t cut it and the fourth one is just too old. A serious contender right now would already have at least a dozen identified supporters behind him and could afford to release at least three of them off their leashes to publicly attack Charles. Palpably, this is not the case.

The sensible path is for Kennedy to seriously buck his ideas up and for everyone else to rally behind him until the next General Election; the problem is, I’ve seen nothing at all tonight that suggests that the message has finally got through to either camp.

Expect to see more of this every few months for the foreseeable future until Kennedy finally has enough (although I’d be delighted to be proven wrong).

UPDATE: The morning papers make it clear that this story isn’t going anywhere soon. According to the Guardian, 6 front benchers claim that they have privately called for him to quite while the Independent has concentrated on Menzies Campbell’s pointed refusal to back Charles publicly.

UPDATE 2: The Times is notably more blunt than the others, which I’m sure will come as a complete surprise to many. Not. Bizarrely, they are crediting his downfall to the party funding row they have concocted, which is almost as much nonsense as the claim that all this is a reaction to the Cameron leadership win (admittedly a slight catalyst, but there’s plenty to suggest this issue would be rearing its ugly head now even if Howard were still ploughing on). It mentions this now famous email from Mark Oaten that went out yesterday. I didn’t get a copy of this. Was it something I said?

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!

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.

Taking the piss?

A bizarre little row has emerged on P-7, with Downing Street officials accused of mopping up some of the more colourful language used by Tony Blair at his press conference.

It’s interesting at how the BBC reported this however, claiming that Blair said that he would be “reduced to ‘a little puddle of water’.”

This is what Blair actually said, word for word:

It really is not good enough for people, I think I heard Ken Clarke or someone say ‘oh, the police always ask for this type of thing.

It is just not good enough, It is not responsible.

But you imagine if when I was running, in 1994, when I was running for the leadership of the Labour party and we’d had the worst terrorist attack in this country just a few months before I was running for the leadership – and the then Conservative government had said we need this legislation because the police tell us it’s necessary, you tell me how easily I would have got away with saying ‘sorry I am just not doing that’.

You tell me how many of your newspapers and your media outlets would be saying ‘oh well fair enough, there is no need to question him at all.

I wouldn’t have got away from any TV studio or any interview with anyone without a little puddle of water being where I once was.

It doesn’t sound to me like he’s suggesting he’d be reduced to a little puddle of water. It sounds to me like he’s suggesting the media would be so nasty to him that it would make him wee which would be left on the upholstery after he left the studio.

The question is, did this sort of thing happen all the time when he was getting started in 1994? Have the media been involved in some kind of elaborate cover up? Are the pants for incontinence? I think we should be told.

Pant Watch: the Grand Coalition

Pants
Welcome to Pant Watch. Pant Watch exists to chronicle the dying days of the Blair administration. Technically, we are now at P-8, P-1 being the day that Steve Bell published this cartoon showing Blair wearing John Major’s pants of power. To be sure, Bell has portrayed Blair as a pant-wearer before, most memorably here, but it would appear that Blair has now acquired something unmistakeably Major-like in his impotence in administration now, as if we have reached, if not the end of the Blair administration, then at least the beginning of the end.

(for more on this by Steve himself, see here)

It would appear however that both the Tory contenders look at Blair’s pants with envious eyes. I mention the Tories here, not simply to make a gratuitous link to that ridiculous story, but because I think a lot of the commentariat has missed a point here.

The story goes that Blair has lost all authority and that his attempts to push through his reforms on health, education and welfare will all be for nothing, that he won’t be able to squeeze a single thing through. Those commentators appear to be missing one very important ingredient; pretty much everything Blair wants to do to health, education and welfare is broadly along the same lines that the Tories want to do as well. Indeed, Cameron has repeatedly emphasised that on a number of issues in the past, the Tories were wrong to oppose Blair.

Cameron is onto a real thing here and even if he doesn’t win the leadership ballot, it may well be that elements of his nascent strategy emerged under Davis anyway. Tactically, the best thing the Tories can do right now is work with Blair on these reforms, partly because it means they get broadly what they want despite not having the prerequisite bums on seats, and partly because it is likely to provoke an unholy civil war within the Labour Party.

How long will it be before Blair wins a vote on a ‘legacy’ issue, with the Tories bolstering him in the face of a major Labour rebellion? It didn’t happen in the case of the terrorism vote, and civil liberties in general, mainly because it wouldn’t wash with the idea of modern conservativism, whichever flavour you choose. Public services are a different matter.

What we could be looking at here is the beginning of an informal Grand Coalition, which has the potential to develop into a more formal arrangement after the next General Election. It would inevitably be more problematic for Labour than the Tories, but it would also be in Labour’s interests, or at least the Blairite-reformist wing that forms the majority of MPs. It is surely only a matter of time before they realise that a marriage with a rebranded, modern Conservative Party is preferable to one with Old Labour. Meanwhile, any Tory who can count – and I understand there are a few – is all too aware that however well they do over the next few years, they can’t form a majority in the Commons (pdf). Their future will either be spent in the wilderness or in coalition, and it is unlikely that the ‘natural party of government’ will choose the wilderness.

Many Labour supporters will snort in derision at this, but this is the precisely the corner that Tony Blair has got them in. This is the danger of triangulation, especially when the people at the top end up believing it. Abandon ‘modernisation’ and you open up ground for the Tories to capture. Stick with it and you will have to rely on the Tories to get everything through.

So even if the current wearer of the pants shuffles off, it may be that his successor finds them freshly pressed on his bed when he enters Number 10 for the first time.

Meanwhile, whoever the Tories choose for leader may find he has the real power in the country. Even David Davis.

Think about that one.