Reflecting on Charles’s reflections

by Stephen Tall on September 19, 2006

As expected, Charles Kennedy received a generous reception for what was going to be one of the most difficult speeches of his life: a high-wire act on stilts.

He knew every dot and comma – every crossed ‘t’ and dotted ‘i’ – would be parsed, scrutinised, and analysed by commentators desperate to put a fag paper between him and the new leadership.

(Not least because the resounding acceptance of the Tax Commission proposals had robbed the commentariat of their much-desired “Lib Dems in disarray” headlines.)

So how did Charles do?

He did just fine. It was a surprisingly understated speech, ranging widely (and lengthily) across the spectrum of political issues. It covered all the ground you would expect of a leader’s speech – but it certainly didn’t sound like a pitch for the leadership, or even the front bench.

Rather, his deliberate invoking of the spirit of Robin Cook suggested he was looking forward to a period of quiet reflection, punctuated by occasional forays into battle on those issues about which he cares most – from Lords reform, to PR for Westminster, to Europe.

Of one thing I’m pretty sure – the hoarse delivery suggested he hasn’t kicked his smoking habit.