Four top tips for the Lib Dems…

by Stephen Tall on May 22, 2006

… from Tim Hames in today’s Times. (Treasure the moment like the retinal imprint of a shooting star.)

First, the idea Ming is about to fall victim to another internal party coup is bollocks:

Many [Lib Dem MPs] speak warmly of the way he chairs meetings and contrast this favourably with what is belatedly conceded as the chaos of the Kennedy era. There is a sense that Ming will allow his Shadow Cabinet the space to think creatively, even if this upsets party activists. While the local elections were underwhelming for the Liberal Democrats, the results were often more impressive in areas where the party has a presence at Westminster. So the notion of Ming being “on probation”, or simply keeping the seat warm for a younger man, is nonsense.

Secondly, let’s not freak out about his below-par performances at Prime Minster’s Questions:

For a start, neither Charles Kennedy nor Paddy Ashdown enjoyed this strange political blood sport either and one struggles to recall them ever saying anything memorable in the chamber. There are solid reasons why Prime Minister’s Questions has never been the natural terrain of Liberal Democrat leaders. It is very difficult to engage in a serious skirmish with the Prime Minister when you have just two questions to work with. By the time he gets to you he is pretty pumped up from his exchanges with David Cameron. It’s rather like being asked to burst out of the blocks against an opponent who is already comfortably in his stride. It is also hard for a Liberal Democrat leader who normally wants to present an image of reasoned moderation to manufacture the synthetic anger required for this occasion.

Thirdly, a suggestion to Ming (a la Paddy and the Balkans):

So if I were Ming I would not bother trying to duplicate the same strategy as the Leader of the Opposition. Rather than attempting to be topical each week, he might be better persisting with a couple of issues over several months and stablishing his credentials on, for example, the state of the NHS and what to do about Iran.

Fourthly, don’t let’s be backward about moving economically forward:

While their leader is physically too thin, the Liberal Democrats are lightweight on new tax policy — though they don’t need to be. Vince Cable, their very capable Treasury spokesman and deputy leader, is more than ready to advance an economic agenda that would carry weight in financial circles. Mr Cable should be encouraged to do so. The best way of liberating him is for the existing commitment to raise the top rate of income tax to 50 per cent to be dropped and for the Liberal Democrats to dedicate themselves to a fairer and simpler tax system that would be neutral in its revenue implications. This would be resisted by some of them, but a short, sharp struggle on tax and a stark victory at the party conference this year would be in the interests of the leadership.

Much more helpful advice than some I’ve recently heard.