Peter Black: where’s the beef?

I’m a little torn regarding Peter Black’s recent outburst about Ming Campbell’s leadership. I share many of Peter’s concerns and support his right to air them, but I question why he chose the nuclear option of seeking to turn them all into a question of leadership.

Take the tax policy for example. I too agree that what I’ve seen so far is muddled and unfocussed. But for that, I blame the tax commission. I’m also quite sanguine about Ming discussing some of it in public at this late stage – it is dangerous to write policy in a vacuum. And let’s not forget that it was Charles Kennedy – not Ming – who started talking to the papers about what was going to be in the paper – as far back as November.

The problem with pinning all of this on the leader is that your meaningful criticisms get lost in the noise about personality clashes. It becomes a test of Ming’s “strength” to dismiss everything you have to say. The substance gets lost.

Indeed, many of these problems predate Ming’s leadership. These criticisms amount to little more than bemoaning the fact that Ming hasn’t introduced change fast enough. Wouldn’t it be more effective to instead consider who or what is preventing those changes from taking place, and to challenge Ming to sort them out, rather than placing all the responsibility on him? One aspect of the diffuse way in which power is spread by the Liberal Democrat constitution is that playing “pin the blame on the leader” can become an exercise in denying your own – and our collective – responsibility.

Generally, attacking the leader is something you should reserve unless you are serious about ousting him/her. It isn’t clear if that is Peter’s intent, but it is certainly clear that a lot of such noise has been coming from his fellow Simon Hughes supporters and of course Simon Hughes himself. Yet Hughes was humiliated in the leadership contest, coming third behind an MP who had only entered the Commons for the first time 8 months before. However tempting the conspiracy theory may be, it must be barking: Hughes has had two attempts at leader and is in no position to mount a challenge either now or after the general election.

Since it is vocal Hughes supporters making all the running though, it does behoove me to point out that, as President, Hughes shares responsibility for many of the things that Black is so critical of. Hughes is up for re-election this autumn, not Campbell, and it is his record we should be currently turning our attention to. If there are problems at the top of the party, this is our chance to fix them in a much more productive manner than lobbing brickbats at Ming.


  1. For the record I do not consider myself to be a ‘Hughes supporter’ and would agree that he is as culpable as Ming for many of the problems. From my present seat on the FE it seems to me that he does not understand devolution and is intent on leading from the front instead of engaging with members in a meaningful way. His time as a potential leadership contender has passed.

    My blog entry was not pre-meditated in anyway, it was letting off steam. On the Tax Commission I do feel strongly that Ming’s public championing of its proposals will severely limit debate at Conference and prevent meaningful amendments getting through. I do not agree that the Leader is above criticism other than as part of an attempted coup. Nobody is above criticism. For the record I also made many of the same criticisms directly to Ming and Simon at the last FE.

  2. I’m totally out of the loop these days so apologies if this is a niave question but is anybody planning to challenge Simon? (Even just on a Lord Bonkers type basis). Or is that just not the done thing.

  3. Lembit was making noises about it earlier this year, but aside from that I’ve heard nothing.

    But then I’m a bit out of the loop myself these days.

  4. I also haven’t said who I’d back in any future leadership election, as I don’t know who’ll stand! And I also wasn’t “making the running” for anything – I was just speaking my mind.

  5. Interesting to look at the press coverage today – can’t help but notice that like those who briefed against Kennedy at Christmas, those who are now briefing for him have waited until Parliamentary recess, when people don’t feel the whips breathing down their necks quite so much.

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