Tag Archives: ming-campbell

Ming Campbell abstained on his own policy

This has probably been blogged elsewhere, but looking at Public Whip today I was intrigued to note that the Lib Dems failed to get their own MPs out to vote in support of having a debate on the in/out amendment referendum. In a vote which was not likely to get passed and which the Lib Dems are surely planning to use against individual rival MPs, the Tories got 87% of their MPs out, Labour got 88% of their MPs out while the Lib Dems managed a mere 84%. Read into that what you will.

The absentees are an odd bunch. The most notable one is Ming Campbell. However badly Clegg may have subsequently handled it, let us not forget that it was Campbell that got us in this mess in the first place. It’s a shame he didn’t at least vote for his own policy.

Public Whip has not yet published the results of last nights vote. One of its quirks is that it defines a rebellion as a vote against what the majority within that particular party grouping was voting. On that basis, the 15 MPs who voted against the three line whip to abstain will be listed as loyalists.

UPDATE: Just had a look at the Tories who abstained in the in/out vote. They include, not exclusively, the usual Euronihilist suspects such as Bill Cash and Douglas Carswell. Clearly, for all their protestations, a significant number of them would have loved the opportunity to really put this to a vote.

My leadership dilemma

At the moment, it looks as if the main candidates in this race will be Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne. Caveats cannot be stressed enough: remember when Mark Oaten looked like a real challenger and Chris Huhne a mere also ran? We can’t dismiss the other potential challengers; Steve Webb, Ed Davey and Susan Kramer are all serious prospects in my book, although I doubt the latter will stand with that be-cheekboned and be-millioned Tory dilettante parked on her lawn.

Looking at Huhne and Clegg, I suppose I have to declare my hand here. Chris Huhne was the only candidate offering a clear vision which filled me with any real enthusiasm during the last leadership election. His wariness about going for a safe pair of hands and his enthusiasm for marrying our taxation and environmental policy both proved spot on. He is the more intellectual of the two and, in my view, the one whose instincts I trust more.

Nick Clegg meanwhile, while clearly bursting at the seams with nice guy charisma, didn’t only bottle in during the last contest (which was probably a wise course of action), he became Ming’s greatest cheer-leader – something which never rang true for me – and seemed to be behind much of the bad-temperedness of Ming’s campaign. He demonstrated poor judgement by agreeing to do that Andrew Rawnsley interview at party conference, which very much resembled the launch of a leadership bid, and I question the decision of his team to launch his campaign SIX HOURS (I have the email) after the announcement of Ming’s resignation – he couldn’t even wait for dawn. Fundamentally, I’m yet to be convinced that he has a big picture view on where the party should go from here. The fact that over the summer he was banging on about the need for a party narrative, a theme that the party formally began exploring two years earlier, rather than offering a narrative of his own, spoke volumes.

So, all things being equal, I remain a Huhney Monster. But here’s the thing. I’ve just seen a party leader destroyed, in my judgement, largely because the media simply would not give him an even break over his age. I’ve just read a day’s worth of newspapers assuring me that the media had nothing to do with his resignation and that it had everything to do with wicked, back-stabbing Lib Dems, but it doesn’t ring true. Right now I’m all too aware of their power and the party’s inability to challenge it meaningfully.

Most of the media appears to have decided that Clegg is the only choice. The papers have been full of theories that Huhne was the one who knifed Ming (something which Ming himself has now strenuously denied and which begs the question who was doing the briefing?). The Times leader all but barked its orders to us yesterday:

If the mediocre Mr Huhne is anointed, his party is doomed to insignificance, while the clearly more capable Mr Clegg seems to understand that a combination of market economics and social conscience will have popular appeal.

Well, that’s me told. My concern is, are we really ready for another fight with the media? Can we afford to make what they consider to be another “wrong” decision?

These are utterly craven questions to ask, I readily admit. If the party was where it was at in 2006, I’d have answered an unequivocal “yes”. Currently however, I’m wondering if that is just vanity. I’m not sure I have the stomach for the fight.

On the other hand, the Federal Executive has declared that such pondering is not to be tolerated. Some bloody moron managed to fix it in their minds that it all had to be over by Christmas. Why Christmas? Surely the holiday season would be the perfect time for the party to reflect on its future? Surely a Spring ballot could tie in with our Spring conference, providing our new leader with the perfect launchpad? Surely it would be better to give the contenders the time to plan their campaigns instead of forcing them to rush into it all? Surely it was that mad rush which made the last contest so gaffe-strewn and uninspiring? Surely in Vince Cable we have a capable acting leader who is perfectly able to hold the fort? I could go on, but in short was an appalling decision that the party will pay the price for if it does not get reversed quickly.

Basically, what I’m saying is that I want time to think, and I want the candidates to have time to think as well. Gareth Epps asks six very pertinent questions over on Lib Dem Voice. If during the process of this contest we don’t come some way to answering them, it will have been a wasted exercise.

In the meantime I am genuinely at a loss as to whether to throw my lot in with a specific candidate, to help co-ordinate the internal party debate, or to simply sulk. Maybe the real contest is for Party President, which will be held next autumn come what may. Normally a deathly dull contest on the odd occasion that there is a contest at all, we at least have time to plan for this one. Just a thought.

Reflections on the fall of Chairman Campbell

In light of yesterday’s events, I suppose people must think I look rather foolish for taking the Observer to task over its reporting of the plot against Ming.

Fair enough, but my point still holds. Both of those articles suggested that MPs were plotting a coup, yet neither of them included a direct quote from an MP saying as much or gave any details as to how the journalist came by that information. I still think that is pretty unacceptable.

We appear to have gone beyond the usual practice of anonymous briefings to the press now to a system whereby journalists and their sources communicate by a complicated system of winks, nods and facial tics. The rest of us are left out in the cold, not knowing to what extent the stories we read in our papers are actually true or simply the fevered imaginings of a hack with a deadline. Even the old conventions of “sources close to X” has now gone out of the window as journalists compete to make their claims sound more sensational. And this is in the broadsheets.

I don’t ask for the identity of the knife wielders, merely more evidence that such knife wielders do indeed exist. In the case of this particular story all speculation on this is now of course moot, but it won’t be the last time.

Anyway, so much for that. I see MPs are now lining up to say nice things about Ming on the record. My favourite quote is from Mike Hancock:

“I think he was shafted by a complete shower of shits.”

What a charming mental picture, just don’t try picturing it too hard.

The thing I will find the most depressing over the next few days is that we are now to be greeted with a hagiographic account of Ming’s abilities and achievements which will be as ridiculous and overblown as the accounts immediately before which portrayed him as a dithering old dunderhead. The meeja doesn’t do things by halves. And just as we were getting resignations over many of Ming’s less than stellar performances over the months, expect another wave of them now. It just seems as if for so many people politics has become nothing more or less than a circus; they’re just waiting to be entralled and appalled.

Actually, the most depressing thing over the next few days will be seeing, hearing and reading media interviews with Ben Ramm once again claiming to be the authentic voice of Lib Dem activism. He’s going to be unbearable, isn’t he? Just thinking about it makes me want to open a vein. I bet he’s been rubbing his hands with glee all evening.

So, in an effort to pre-empt the influx of these stories, I have only this to say:


Got that? No? Oh well, it was worth a try.

Oh, and true story: the guy who served me in McDonalds yesterday was called Ming. He got my order wrong. Ho hum.

Over on Comment is Free…

My take on the Ides of Ming

Gordon Brown last week perfectly demonstrated the dangers of letting tactical considerations dominate policy. The Liberal Democrats have been doing the same thing for years, largely out of the media glare. The truth is it has served us well, leading us to triple our MPs in 15 years. But with both Labour and the Conservatives now resurgent, its limitations are all too clear to see. I can’t help but suspect that the same obsession with tactics, and dismissal of strategy, is what is largely behind this scapegoating of Ming.

I wish they’d used my headline though: Death by Focus Leaflet.

Another letter to the Observer’s Readers’ Editor

Dear Mr Pritchard,

Last week I wrote to you to complain about an unsubstantiated claim made by Jo Revill in an article that MPs were plotting to replace Sir Menzies as leader of the Liberal Democrats. I did not receive a reply (original message below).

This week I am writing to you about the same issue. In Jo Revill’s article this week (Bad polls raise heat on Menzies) she asserts that:

Now the prospect of a general election this autumn has disappeared, many grassroots supporters and MPs feel the time to replace him with one of the party’s younger generation is approaching.

This is substantiated with two quotes from Lib Dem peers. One does not appear to be calling for Sir Menzies resignation at all:

‘He’s a good man but very stubborn. I can’t see him falling on his sword. You have to ask why we are doing so very badly in the polls. We are simply not conveying to voters the simple messages about our policies.’

A very valid question but not a criticism. Even calling Sir Menzies “stubborn” is not neccesarily a criticism.

But fundamentally, neither of these quotes are from MPs. I do not question that some party members have openly called for Sir Menzies to go, but the claim that any MPs have been calling for his head is not substantiated.

I don’t call for anonymous sources to be outed; all I’m asking for is that significant claims such as that be qualified and quantified. I don’t understand why that is too much to ask for.

Perhaps you could do me the courtesy of replying this week?

Yours sincerely,

James Graham

A letter to the Observer’s Readers’ Editor

Dear Mr Pritchard,

In Jo Revill’s article (Labour critics blame Balls and Alexander), she makes the following statement:

But there are now also questions over the fate of the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Ming Campbell, 66, who has failed to push up his party’s fortunes in the opinion polls in recent months. He was chosen in 2006 to provide a safe pair of hands after Charles Kennedy had to resign – but he also has younger MPs who are keen to take the job.

As Brown has now hinted that there will not be an election until 2009, it raises the question of whether the party will want to give itself a fresher look by bringing in a younger leader such as home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg or environment spokesman Chris Huhne.

One Lib Dem MP said last night: ‘This election decision is going to have big ramifications for us all. We will have to take a good hard look at our own party, now the prospect of an autumn poll has receded, to think about where we want to be in 18 months’ time.’

This is spurious on several grounds. If there are younger MPs who are “keen” to take the job, they should be named, surely? Or is that merely speculation? It is also not clear how Brown not calling an election until 2009 “raises the question of whether the party will want to give itself a fresher look by bringing in a younger leader”. How does it, any more than, for example, it raise the question of whether the Conservatives might not want a less posh leader, or that Labour might not want a less Scottish leader? Who is raising this question, apart from the journalist herself?

Finally, the quote – which is clearly being used to back up these statements – is a non-sequitor as it does not in fact call for Ming Campbell to be replaced.

I have no objection to commentators arguing for Ming Campbell to be replaced, but this article is presented as news. What it is, in fact, is opinion, and one in which the agenda is entirely unclear. If Ms Revill has anonymous briefers saying that the knives are out for Sir Menzies, she does not say so. It is one thing to protect the anonymity of briefers, quite another to present it as anything other than briefing.

Is it really too much to not expect journalists to editorialise in this way? I request a clarification over what exactly Ms Revill has been told and what the Observer’s policy is regarding reporting news dispassionately.

Yours sincerely,

James Graham

That was the election that wasn’t

Ever since I heard about Gordon Brown’s decision to call off an autumn ballot, I’ve been thinking of Helen, the runner up of Big Brother Series 2. Famously, for the proverbial 15 minutes at any rate, Helen liked blinking. Well, Gordon Brown has just given it a go and I get the feeling he doesn’t like it. Doesn’t like it at all.

And yet. And yet. Reading Jeremy Hargreaves’ piece on the tragedy of Cameron has got me thinking. While Gordon Brown’s nods and winks about a November poll have successfully united the Tory party and given them a good week at a time when we were expecting them to tear each other apart, they have coalesced in traditional Tory territory. Their one commitment on environmental issues, a levy on planes to replace the passenger duty, essentially means that the Tories have caught up, puffing and wheezing, with where the Liberal Democrats were in 2004. Back then, as a member of the Green Liberal Democrats exec, I can assure you that we were deeply concerned at the lack of solid commitment the party had to environmental issues. If that’s the best Cameron can do, he ought to drop the act that he takes the issue of climate change seriously; no-one’s buying, least of all Zac Goldsmith (who, following his sulk last week, ought to claim the mantle of Quiet Man from IDS).

My prediction last week that by not holding an election now, Brown will force the Tories to bore the public to death on the topic of Europe still holds. The Tory front bench have now as good as given their rottweillers a green light to bonkers over the IGC this month and the genie cannot be put back in its bottle. Whether he likes it or not, Cameron’s own party will now force him to make Europe a big deal in the election.

The process of rejecting Cameronism, which started with the Grammar schools debacle in the summer (“Grammar streaming”? Snarf!!), is now complete: Cameron is now a slave to his party. A couple of years ago, he was really quite scary and seemed to truly capture the zeitgeist. Now he just looks like another posh boy.

But Brown hasn’t got off lightly either. In truth, his tarnish started to come off with the stunt last month when he invited Thatcher round for tea: it was horribly effective but about as subtle as a brick and we all knew it. Back then it became apparent that Brown was just as careful a spinner as his predeccessor; now it is undeniable. The honeymoon period is now over; he too now looks as if he has feet of clay.

That the Labour and Tory leaders are mortal may not appear to be that big a revelation, but when you remember that this is the main criticism levelled against Ming Campbell, you begin to realise that it represents a real opportunity for the Lib Dems. We’ve all been taken down a peg or two since 2005; from now on politics will have a little less effervescence and be a little more substantial. In my humble opinion, all the boring, dry work that Campbell and his colleagues have been doing to make the Lib Dems serious players in terms of policy and positioning now has a chance to pay off. He still needs to sort out his press operation (kudos to whoever for getting the Campbell comment on Brown’s bottle out before Cameron, although I note now that the BBC has now relegated Campbell’s comment in the way it always does – thank God we can rely on Iain Dale to confirm how slow the Tories were out of the starting blocks), but if we can just sort that out, I’m confident we have now turned a corner.

Ming Campbell outed as Georgist secularist human being!

Odd last day of conference for me as I got to bookend Ming’s speech. I was in the fundraising video they showed at the start, having agreed to be a prop for Greg Stone to talk about the value of online advertising. In retrospect, it looked rather like a Children in Need appeal with a celebrity asking for money to support special needs kids. Not the most glorious start to my new sideline in whoring out my “celebrity” status for the good of the party (which I suspect has already come to an end).

At the other end of the speech, I was interviewed on News 24 for a quick reaction. My reaction then, as now, was one of faintly surprised praise. Ming was good in a number of different ways and his speech was the most rousing I’ve heard a Lib Dem leader give since 1999.

Kennedy certainly had his moments, but always struggled to fill a whole 45 minutes without sagging. Worse, I don’t think he was ever blessed with particularly awe-inspiring speeches – something which he cannot absolve himself of the blame for. This speech was more consistent than Kennedy at his best and while the delivery was little more than competent, the content was much stronger.

Two passages in particular leapt out for me. First of all, Ming declared himself a secularist:

Discrimination and intimidation have no place in a liberal society.

And on the matter of faith, let’s be clear.

A truly liberal society guarantees the freedom of all religions, but it accepts the tyranny of none.

People must be free to live without threat or fear.

To say the things, write the words and live the lives they choose.

Does that offend some people?

Yes, of course.

But the price of freedom is the risk of offence –

And, for me, that price is always worth paying.

I like to think even Laurence Boyce would be pleased to hear a Lib Dem party leader say that. He didn’t need to tackle this issue here; he chose to. That suggests a leader with strong liberal instincts. Can you imagine the Conservative or Labour leader saying the same over the next fortnight?

Secondly, he dealt with the interesting area of environmental rights:

And at the foundation of it all a Bill of Rights –

A Bill of Rights to reclaim the civil liberties stolen from us by this Labour government.

A Bill of Rights to anchor freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of association within our law.

And I am prepared to go further still.

Climate change is the greatest challenge facing the world today.

So I want a Bill of Rights that puts the protection of the environment at the very heart of Britain’s constitution:

We should guarantee the right of every citizen to clean water, pure air and unpolluted land.

I hope Ming appreciates the implications of what he has said here, because some of us will hold him to it. This passage effectively outs Ming as a Georgist. If everyone has an equal right to nature, then the privatisation of economic rent would be illegal. The BBC are missing the point when they suggest that it means that people would have a “right” to block new roads or airports. It could never be made to work that way (although environmental rights would of course have to be a consideration); what it would do is entitle people to a fair share of the wealth such projects create.

Frankly, this is radical stuff. We Georgists have contented ourselves to fighting for LVT in taxation policy working groups while the party leader effectively calls for the collection of economic rent to be hardwired into our constitution! Plaudits, Ming, plaudits. I look forward to these ideas being developed.

Finally, he finally realised that politics is personal:

Over the past few months I have travelled throughout this country.

I have had the privilege to meet – in private visits – some of the most extraordinary and courageous people:

People from all walks of life.

I met Jamal – a young musician who wants to go to university but is frustrated and angry at the prospect of being deep in debt.

I learned from him and his friends of the terrible waste of talent and the alienation of so many young people.

I met Anne, a 20 year old woman in prison for drug offences.

She’s had little formal education.

Yet she’s studying to take GCSEs and wants to enrol with the Open University.

I learned from her that if prisoners get proper education and training it will help them to find work on their release.

That’s the way to cut reoffending.

I met Jane – a 26 year old former addict, in a shelter for the homeless.

She has beaten her addiction.

She now hopes to get custody of her four young children.

I learned from her how important it is for the homeless to regain their self-respect and to feel that they are in control of their own lives.

I met Michael, a 29 year old British soldier who had suffered terrible injuries in a mortar attack in Iraq.

He was determined to get fit again and rejoin his unit.

I learned from him at first hand what our young men and women are going through in Iraq.

He told me he was lucky – two days before he was hit, one of his best friends had been killed by a single small piece of shrapnel.

That’s the price being paid for a war that should never have been.

These are inspiring people:

People with the spirit and determination to beat the odds.

But for every success there are too many stories of shattered dreams and frustrated ambitions.

There are too many forgotten people in Brown’s Britain.

What was interesting about this section in the speech is that it is here that Ming’s oratory came alive. Let’s be honest – he isn’t great at calling up great emotional swoops on demand. But in this section he came across as honest, sincere and respectful of these individuals’ dignity. The thing is, Ming is actually a good narrator. He tells stories well; he pitches policy poorly. Too many of his speeches and his predecessors’ have all been about relating official Rennard Approved(TM) policy bites. Not one of them has been as effective as these three simple human stories.

In my News 24 interview I said that Ming was the turtle to Cameron’s hare: he plods along but gets results while Dave falls apart before reaching the finishing line. Friends have since commented that they think this is a terrible analogy as it makes Ming look undynamic: personally I think it is time we started to concentrate on selling what he is rather than trying to pretend he’s something different. What was effective about this speech is that, broadly speaking, this is precisely what was done.

Next: let’s start selling the party on what it is rather than going around pretending it’s something different. One step at a time, I know.

Cameron less popular than Campbell (UPDATE)

To paraphrase old Rudyard, we should treat our triumphs with the same contempt that we reserve for our disasters, but it is nonetheless glorious to see Cameron slipping in the opinion polls behind Ming Campbell (credit: Paul Walter. More here). What’s more, this can’t be called a conference bounce since most of the polling was done before conference started.

Ming makes the perfectly valid point that if you compare Ashdown and Kennedy’s standings at the same point during their leaderships, they had pretty much the same ratings that he has now, and Newsnight’s decision on Tuesday to misrepresent Ming by comparing his current ratings to Kennedy’s in 2004 was an utter disgrace. It’s clear that we still have a long way to go, but Cameron and the Tories seem to be stuck in self-destruct mode.

The most striking thing about this poll is how relatively unpopular Cameron is amongst his party faithful compared to Campbell. Having a net rating of only +25 among your own supporters is cause for alarm.

My challenge to all you Tories out there reading this is, given how much you’ve crowed in the past about Campbell failing to make an impact, what possible justification do you have now to support your own leader? Isn’t it time you called for him to resign? I await your comments with enthusiasm!

UPDATE: I’m still waiting for a single Tory to explain why Cameron should continue given his unpopularity.