It’s Ming for Me: the debate rages…

by Stephen Tall on January 19, 2006

Lawks! Within four hours of me posting my eight reasons for voting for Ming Campbell as leader, Pete Simpson posted 15 reasons in my comments box suggesting why I should think again. Rather than attempt to address them all by direct reply, let me canter through his list in a fresh posting:

1. Was nervous at PMQs and made a noticable mistake in his speech.

Yes, he was nervous: it would be unnatural if he were not. (I bet Cameron’s hands still shake; but he can grip hold of the despatch box.) But I decline to judge leaders on the basis of the farcical pantomime that is PMQs. I didn’t notice the mistake in his speech: but I’ve read it and I liked it.

2. Has been losing support since his campaign launch.

Has he been losing support, or have others gained support? Whichever, he has at least picked up my one vote during the campaign.

3. Assumed to have played a major part in Charles’ downfall.

I’ve no idea what happened behind-the-scenes. What I do know is that Charles’s alcoholism, and the way it impacted on his leadership, placed everyone in the party in an incredibly difficult situation. Could it have been handled better? Possibly. Am I going to single out any one individual for blame? Absolutely not.

4. Will be seen as too old by many.

And will be seen by others as credible, authoritative and experienced. Which is the correct call will be decided by the quality of his leadership.

5. Is an intermediate solution, not a long-term solution.

Who isn’t?

I do not believe that any one individual is the long-term solution for the Liberal Democrats. What I do believe is this: we need a leader who can unite the party, understands the need for a credible, costed programme of liberal policies, and can assemble a top-quality team of MPs to articulate this vision. I believe Ming can do this.

6. Still talks about left and right far too much when talking about the party.

A fair point. Like you, I deprecate the terms, and think they’re best avoided – to be fair, so does Ming on his website: “[Ming] has no time for the media-driven view that we must either lurch to the left or lunge to the right. Given the progressive liberal agenda that Liberal Democrats represent, he sees these terms as meaningless.” (He does seem sometimes to forget this in interviews, though.)

7. Owns a (or two, if you believe some reports) petrol guzzling Jaguar.

Unless we’re proposing banning Jags I see no problem with this. I just happen to think he should be taxed accordingly for the privilege – that’s how to solve negative externalities.

8. Is in favour of Tuition Fees

So far as I’m aware he’s signed up to the Party’s opposition to ‘top-up’ tuition fees. Unlike me.

9. Has held a shotgun certificate.

And…? So’s my brother. And a few other people, I dare say.

10. Fails to understand the issue surrounding passive smoke

I’m sure he doesn’t. But he may disagree with governments legislating to ban smoking in private businesses (or ‘public places’, as pubs and restaurants appear now to be classed). I know I do.

11. Is failing to lead the way in the by-election in his nearby constituency.

Come off it, that really is unfair! The by-election was called after Ming had declared his candidacy for the leadership. What should he have done? Stood down?

And, anyway, I imagine he’s earning a reasonable amount of publicity for the party up there just now.

12. Would continue ‘Celtic Fringe’ leader tradition that we started to avoid.

I’m not sure how we “started to avoid” it under Charles Kennedy…?

13. Was worryingly keen on merging with New Labour in the long run.

I’m not sure ‘The Project’ was ever about merger, but, yes, he has a Grimond-inspired passion for a realignment of the left in British politics. Do I agree with him? No. Do I think we’re going to wake up one day to discover Gordon Brown is our new leader? Again, no.

14. Was once described by Ken Clarke as “as much a Tory as I am”.

Make up your mind… Is he about to merge the Lib Dems with Labour, or jump ship to the Tories?

As it happens, I think Ken is wrong. But, then, I also think Ken’s a liberal.

15. Could we realistically have a leadership election during hung parliament talks? …No!

Let’s get to the next election. Hung Parliaments are far more often forecast than realised. Even if it does happen, why should Ming not conduct the negotiations? If we’re saying there must never be a leadership contest during a Hung Parliament, we might be in some difficulties if and when PR is introduced.