Jonathan Calder has been dispensing advice to Ming Campbell via the Guardian today under the West Wing inspired headline Let Ming Be Ming. Personally, I have a more crude bit of advice: acquire a brass neck.
My analysis of the last three months is that there are lots of signs of progress. The party has done more internet-based campaigning in the past three months than it had done in the three months running up to the general election for example, with lots more in the works. There is a sense emerging that the front bench is raising its game, with some of our best talent (I’m thinking specifically of Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne here) acquiring a respectable profile of their own that we never saw under Kennedy.
But every time Ming makes progress, he seems to look over his shoulder nervously and wimp out at the last minute. Tim Razzall got shoved off as CCC Chair, yet the party spin doctors are falling over themselves to reassure people that he remains a key advisor for Ming. So much for the bold new direction. Ditto when Ed Davey was announced as his replacement – suddenly we’re told that the old guard needn’t worry because Chris Rennard will be “General Election chair” – a role previously performed by, and thought to be the main role of, um, the CCC Chair.
Ming is about to announce a tax policy paper which reads as if it accepts the case for the party to adopt some kind of property tax – and preferably LVT – yet doesn’t include any such concrete proposal in the executive summary and motion. It makes the case for lower income taxes, yet eclipsing its proposed 2p in the pound tax cut with the introduction of a 4p in the pount local income tax increase.
Even when difficult decisions have to be made, Ming’s leadership thus far has been characterised with an urge to softsoap the losing side, or not make a clear decision at all. This, more than anything else, is keeping the “caretaker” narrative on the media’s agenda.
I’m not going to call for that hoary old cliche a “Clause 4 moment” – I’m not saying he should pick fights for the sake of it – but where decisions need to be made, they must be forthright and with clarity. You can bet the media will report that, because there will be a lot of pissed off people around as a consequence. But that is precisely what Ming’s leadership needs right now. Better to have a lot of people denouncing him for going in the wrong direction, than a lot of listless foot-shuffling waiting for a bit of drama to happen.
I should add that I write as one of those potentially pissed off people.