Selling Ming Short Part II

As expected, the “bridge to the future” slogan is pretty much the one thing that most media outlets have reported from Ming Campbell’s launch yesterday. Nick Clegg repeats it in his Guardian article today as well.

As I said earlier, this really does sap my enthusiasm for Ming as leader. No other candidate is being forced to address what comes after him in this way, and in my view he is being very badly advised to make it the central theme of his campaign. I cannot see the virtue of making the single best reason to not vote for your candidate the one thing that you repeat ad nauseum.

And I’m afraid, Nick’s article makes me still more uneasy. As with Apollo commentator Pip, I find this paragraph quite sinister:

… One of the most obvious lessons I extract from the messy fall of Charles Kennedy is that the party cannot afford to have another leader who does not enjoy the unambiguous loyalty of the overwhelming majority of his parliamentary colleagues. A leader who spends his time looking over his shoulder to make sure his own colleagues are on side cannot be effective in making advances against the other parties.

This sounds like something not a million miles away from blackmail. Yes, of course the parliamentary party needs to have confidence in the leader. But in a party that is founded on the principle of one member one vote, the parliamentary party also has a moral duty to respect the party’s wishes. It is a two way street. We’ve had a month of being told what to think by the parliamentary party – now it’s our turn.


  1. I think that Clegg was more interested in making tactical points against Hughes and Huhne in that article, more than anything else, thus leading to the unfortunate tone. This combined with the attempt to sweep up fans of every other MP into the Campbel camp (‘vote for Ming and you’ll get Clegg/Davey/Kramer/whoever takes your fancy’) suggests more than anything that th Campbell campaign is getting rattled. I don’t think that’s good for anyone (at least anyone in the Lib Dems).

  2. Two thoughts here:

    1) I agree that the Ming campaign has been a tad defensive in tone. “That said”, surely as liberals we do not believe in messianic saviour-leaders? In which case, stressing the team is at least as important as stressing the man? It’s why Chris has emphasised the support he has among women MPs like Lynne Featherstone and Susan Kramer. It’s also (partly) why Simon’s campaign has stuttered this week – he’s assembled a team, but not a potential shadow cabinet.

    2) I agree whole-heartedly that we *must* be a one-member-one-vote party. But let’s not ignore the problems this can pose. Surely we all recognise that in the real world there would be a problem if a leader enjoyed zero support among the MPs – those who work with him/her day-in, day-out – but had won an omov ballot? I’ve no easy answer to this, but let’s not pretend it couldn’t be a problem.

  3. “the parliamentary party also has a moral duty to respect the party’s wishes.”

    The wishes of their constituents come first, don’t they? They’ve been selected by the party, but elected by the constituents. I don’t see how we’re in a two-way street.

  4. It seems reasonable to me, Peter. If Nick thinks the parliamentary party should choose the leader, he should say so. If he thinks the party as a whole should decide, he should tell his colleagues to get behind whomever we choose, not suggest, even before we start voting, that his colleagues, if not he, will abide only reluctantly by our decision. The Campbell campaign still doesn’t quite seem to have got over the fact that their isn’t going to be a coronation (which, on reflection, is probably the wrong term – proclamation?).

    Stephen, re your first point: it’s not a like a general election where you’re electing a party to govern, it’s a one-man choice. There’s no suggestion that if Simon or Chris wins, many of those MPs supporting Ming wouldn’t be in senior roles; and equally, I haven’t heard Ming suggest that he won’t have MPs supporting other candidates in his frontbench team, and rightly so.

    In answer to your second point, look at the situation in Wales: the party elects a Welsh party leader but the AMs have a separate leader. Unfortunately, the nature of politics at the UK level is that the leader and the leader of the MPs have to be one and the same. (I say “unfortunately”, but I get the impression that it causes, or at least caused, some confusion in the Welsh media.)

  5. Will – having hear Nick speak last night, and read his Grauniad piece, he’s not for a moment arguing that the parliamentary party should decide the leader: that’s an unfair misreading. What he would probably argue for is raising the threshold of nominating MPs.

    Of course Ming’s not going to exclude talented rivals from key posts. I don’t understand how that relates to James’s criticism that Ming’s campaign is over-emphasising that a lot of the Lib Dems’ (brightest and best) MPs are supporting him. (Btw, in a general election what you’re actually doing is electing your constituency MP, not a party to govern.)

    And I’m not too sure you have answered my second point! That’s not a criticism: I don’t think there is an answer. But I think we should honestly acknowledge the fact that having a leader who cannot command the respect of his/her parliamentary colleagues is problematic. I don’t think tainting Clegg’s statement as “sinister”, as James does, moves this debate forward.

  6. Stephen – I think the point is that the subtext of the Ming message is: “Don’t worry if you have a few doubts about Ming – you can vote for him safe in the knowledge that you will actually get Davey/Clegg/Teather etc.”

    The reality is that if you vote Huhne you will still get Davey/Clegg/Teather etc.

    (I won’t comment about what you might get if you vote Hughes! But at least Steve Webb is good.)

  7. I think a difference between ‘supporting before the election’ and ‘loyalty after the election’ are two, different, things. A leader that can’t command the respect, and therefore the loyalty, of the party, is no leader.

    I think, as it happens, Clegg is spot on with that statement. Don’t get why it’s actually relevent though, as I’m pretty sure most MPs would support the newly elected leader, huhmever that may be.

    (that was awful, wasn’t it? I must stop awful puns).

  8. The Party is an unincorporated association. That is to say, a collection of like-minded individuals who have joined together to pursue a common cause. The Party’s assets are co-owned by the members in equity, and the Party’s rules derive from the contract which each member enters into whe he or she joins. (When you join, you contract with every other member to obey the rules. You become equitable co-owner of an aliquot share of the Party’s assets, but you are prohibited by contract from severing it.)

    What does all this mean? Well, basically, it means that the members are entitled to elect the Leader by OMOV.

    Now comes the problematic bit. Parliament has its own system of law. There is nothing the Party can do to stop MPs electing their own Parliamentary Leader if they dislike the one elected by the members. The only available sanction would be for local parties to deselect their MPs, though this might be viewed as a breach of Parliamentary privilege.

    Indeed, it is my understanding (though I have never consulted the relevant section), that the Local Government Act 1972 prohibits political parties from interfering with the actions of elected councillors. Council groups are part of the Council, not the political parties to which they belong (that’s why political assistants are actually Council officers, and technically neutral).

    If the members elect a Leader who is unacceptable to the Parliamentary Party, then an immovable object meets an irresistable force. There is no way out. But it isn’t going to happen. Is it???!!!

  9. In respect of comment 7 above I have one concern about Steve Webb, he initiated the party’s current line on health inequalities. While it’s perfectly reasonable to be appalled out low health outcomes, low life expectency, quality of life etc. it’s not an equality issue. It’s very silly to put the party in a position where in a future Lib Dem government could be judged on whether the gap between the bottom and top decile’s life expectency has grown or narrowed, personal health isn’t a matter entirely in the grasp of government. Nor is it a matter that can be resolved in the snap of one or even 3 or 4 parliaments.

  10. Pleased to see this post has provoked a response.

    To clarify: I’m not accusing Nick Clegg of calling for the abolition of OMOV. What I am accusing him of is claiming that the membership would be irresponsible to support any other candidate because the Parliamentary Party wouldn’t wear it, without accepting any responsibility the other way. Indeed, he is quite emphatic they they propose to absolve all responsibility if the wrong candidate is elected.

    As Will says above, it has grown apparent that the Ming team really wasn’t expecting or wanting an actual election and this has lead to one stumble after another. The whole campaign has been incredibly defensive.

    I’m not proposing, as some have suggested, that I believe that the views of MPs here are irrelevant; indeed I made that point clear in my final paragraph (and elsewhere). What I resent is the implication from Clegg’s article that the Campbell team will not respect the mandate of the leader if any other candidate is elected.

    Valerie: MPs have been elected on a party ticket and they should be expected to play within the rules of that party. Why? Because that is what those constituents voted for – they didn’t vote for an independent. It is the closest we have to MPs respecting their wishes in this case.

  11. Whoa there, that’s going way too far! Nothing that I said in my article on the Guardian website suggests that I believe that “the Campbell team will not respect the mandate of the leader if any other candidate is elected” (James). That is a fairly offensive misrepresentation of what I said: which was, quite simply, that with the authority/respect Ming enjoys in the party he’ll be able to hit the ground running from day one. There is nothing “sinister” about emphasising Ming’s authority amongst his Parliamentary colleagues..

    And, no, of course I never hoped for a coronation, it would be entirely out of step with the beliefs/ethos of our party, and with my own beliefs, for any leader to be elected without a mandate from members. And, no, I can’t see what’s wrong with emphasising the strength/depth of the team around a candidate. I think members are entitled to know whether a candidate has a good team or not. I don’t expect agreement with what I write, but I think such wilful misrepresentation doesn’t help the debate.
    Nick Clegg

  12. Sorry, but why shouldn’t any candidate be able to “hit the ground running” after getting elected? Surely by definition, any candidate that actually wins an all member ballot will have all the authority and respect they need? The pertinent question is whether they have the ability to lead; authority is decided by the election. To suggest otherwise is, I’m afraid, innuendo.

    This is a very simple matter to clear up Nick. Can you confirm that:
    1. Whoever wins this election will be able to enjoy the “unambiguous loyalty of the overwhelming majority of his parliamentary colleagues”, and
    2. They won’t have to “spend their time looking over their shoulder to make sure their own colleagues are on side”?

    If this is the case, then it was a pointless thing to say in the first place. If it isn’t, then I would refer you to my earlier comment.

  13. Nick’s point is perfectly clear to me, James.

    It is the MPs that the leader has to work with, day in, day out. It strikes me as a statement of the bleedin’ obvious to point out that a leader elected with the support of more MPs is going to be in a better position to work with the PLDP than one elected without much support among the MPs. In other words, they can ‘hit the ground running’.

    “Surely by definition, any candidate that actually wins an all member ballot will have all the authority and respect they need?” You’re right this is a true-ism. And it’s one that neglects the human dimension, as we saw vividly displayed 3 weeks ago.

    As I said at 2, I’m wholly supportive of omov for Lib Dem leadership elections (though show me a Lib Dem council group in the country which would ever use such a system!). But I’m struggling to see for the life of me how you can deny that it doesn’t pose potential problems.

  14. It’s this “human dimension” I’m attempting to tease out.

    I’m not denying that a candidate with the support of half of the parliamentary party is in a stronger position than one without (well, actually it isn’t quite as clear cut as that; just because a candidate is being backed by a lot of MPs it doesn’t mean he enjoys their “unambiguous loyalty,” it just means they consider him to be the best option under the circumstances), but there is a world of difference between a leader not being as popular amongst his colleagues as they’d like and having to constantly “look over their shoulder.”

    The bottom line is, the Campbell campaign – and Nick Clegg here in particular – have adopted what I regard to be an unneccessarily defensive tone. At best, the paragraph I cited above is an example of using negative language when quite positive alternatives could be used. I’m being accused of nitpicking over an essential truism, but a truism shouldn’t need to be said. It is reasonable to ask why.

    Doing a “Lemon Lyman” doesn’t exactly project self-confidence either. 🙂

  15. Stephen, I can point to a council group that uses OMOV to elect its group leader. I won’t say that I think it’s sensible though…

    Another reason for a candidate to have a large number of MPs in support – and I’m not suggesting this is the case with Ming’s supporters of course – is that if you’re perceived as the frontrunner very early on, some MPs will feel it necessary to back you in the hope of promotion if you are elected.

  16. 16 – Indeed. And a many had declared for Ming well before Chris had even ‘taken soundings’. He was skiing at the time.

    For what it’s worth I’m happy to accept Nick’s explanation.

    My view is that if Simon wins there will be difficulties for him with a number of people in the PP. If Chris wins I suspect there won’t be.

  17. OK, thanks for the tips on how to sell Ming, most useful. But remain perplexed at the suggestion that
    stressing Ming’s credibility inside the Parliamentary party and beyond is somehow defensive. I see it as a
    considerable, though not exclusive, strength. Hey ho, I sense
    we’re in that phase of the leadership contest where everyone’s words become somewhat overinterpreted!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.