Mr Alan Watkins on Sir Walter Menzies Campbell

by Stephen Tall on November 26, 2006

Alan Watkins is one of my favourite political commentators. Always a pleasure to read, he is steeped in political history, and has an artfully judicious sense of perspective.

I’ve rarely quoted him here owing to the Independent’s absurd firewall policy, behind which his cadenced words of wisdom slumbered happily, undisturbed by potential readers damned if they were willing to fork out a quid an article.

So, to celebrate the Indy’s finally waking up and smelling the Internet coffee and letting their journalistic talent be widely read, here’s an extract plucked from today’s Watkins’ tour de force. Purely by chance, it’s a bit where he’s singing the praises of the Lib Dem leader:

Whose footsteps trip light these early winter mornings? Step forward, Walter Menzies Campbell. Why is Ming so pleased with himself? I will tell you. It is because he has come through a dark tunnel and emerged safe and sound on the other side. …

Sir Menzies and his Liberal Democrats have held together remarkably well. This was not, to be sure, the wisdom of the wise even six months ago. In those days, the sad fall of Mr Charles Kennedy was seen as a blow to the party’s prospects; Sir Menzies was hesitant in the House and was, above all, “too old”.

In reality, the Lib Dems were doing quite well in the opinion polls and even better in the by-elections that came up. If the Parliamentary sketch writers had been in a position to decide the 2001 election, Mr William Hague would have become prime minister. Today, Sir Menzies can perform at Questions as impressively as Mr David Cameron or Mr Tony Blair; more so, if his questioning of Mr Blair over Trident last week is any guide.

Likewise with Iraq. Mr Blair is shifty, and Mr Cameron is distinctly uneasy. We need not become too carried away by Sir Menzies’ recent interventions, any more than there was any need to depreciate him after he had just become leader. We have to preserve a sense of proportion, that is all.