Lib Dem MP: "We have to think about where we want to be in 18 months' time"

by Stephen Tall on October 8, 2007

From today’s Guardian:

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. …

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.’

What does this enigmatic remark mean? Usually I take anonymous comments with a decent pinch of salt – both because they’re cowardly and because I don’t trust news reporters – but this measured comment strikes me as genuine.

It’s inevitable there will be some media speculation about Ming Campbell’s leadership in the media in the days’ ahead. This is for two reasons: (i) the media has been robbed of the election it was keenly anticipating, and will be looking for a new big political story to fill the void; and (ii) if Gordon really is going to play the game long, and delay the election until 2009, then Ming will lack the national stage on which to display his leadership credentials.

One question for the Lib Dems – from members, activists and bloggers through to the Parliamentary party – is how we choose to behave during this period of media scrutiny.

My belief is that the party would be deluded to the point of mental incapacity if it were to attempt to force unwillingly from office a second leader in a row. There will be those who disagree – according to the polls, they are a minority, but they exist – and think Ming is a drag on the national party’s popularity.

It is clear the media could not care less about reporting our policies, even more so with a general election judged to be about 18 months away. The only exposure we can expect in the next few months will be when reporters think they can spin out the ‘Ming in trouble’ line they are so keen to run with. And I am aware that even by writing this posting, broadly supportive of Ming, I am giving the speculation some legs.

We can complain about the unfairness of the media’s bias all we like: but this is the reality.

Another question therefore becomes: what is the party going to do about it? Hope the leadership speculation goes away, or face it head on? Has the time come when Ming should think about ‘doing a John Major’, re-standing for his own job as leader of the Lib Dems?

I don’t know if this would resolve anything (after all, it didn’t help John Major or the Tories very much). But do we – does Ming – want to spend another 18 months having to answer tedious questions from bland journalists about his leadership to the exclusion of having the chance to get Lib Dem policies across to the public?

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Returning to the topic in question, perhaps writing to, say, 10,000 members who have not renewed their membership in the past couple of years, asking them why, might be a worthwhile exercise.

by Martin Land on October 10, 2007 at 10:22 am. Reply #

Finally, someone willing to look at the wood from the trees, well done Martin..

There is a second tier of people to ask, they are the key donors to the party.

These are the “mega” donors who deal directly with the treasurers office and Liberty Network.

Liberty Network had 150 plus members who give a minimum of £1000 each but now they have only 39 active members.

The garden party normally has over 140 people this year it had just under 20 !

It is the message, messenger and how we are perceived ! Denying it, is insulting to anyone’s intelligence.

We have a major wake up call, communication is central to the leadership as if it is not,then the only hope is that we say nothing as that might be better than the poll rating we are getting now.

by Warrior on October 10, 2007 at 2:23 pm. Reply #

Martin Land @51 – Given the average age of the party’s membership, I recommend that anyone wishing to contact the 10,000 lapsed members should employ the services of a medium.

by Simon Titley on October 10, 2007 at 5:30 pm. Reply #

To be honest, I think Ming is the ideal capable deputy leader who rose too high.

I respect him but I think it’s time that he accepted the fact that the media and a large part of public opinion has not warmed to him. That fact has become very apparent after 18 months.

I don’t think that is fair on the guy but life isn’t fair.

He should go now, and give his successor between 18 months and 2 1/2 years to get bedded in and improve things.

by mindstar on October 10, 2007 at 5:31 pm. Reply #

Simon @ 53. Sorry, Simon, but in my group of constituencies, we have some pretty good membership secretaries, ones who actually take the lists from Cowley Street and go out and try to renew lapsed members. True, we lose some to the grim reaper, but nonetheless, until 18 months ago the membership picture looked pretty good. In my own constituency, between 2001 and 2006 membership nearly doubled but it’s slipping now and elsewhere I told it’s slipping much more quickly. And I think we need to look at why; and then task action to cure it. Please look at my previous posts on this thread. We need to get our Peers, MPs, MEPs and party staff out ‘on the road’ in a planned attack to build membership, delivery networks and funds in, say, 120 seats, below our target seats – perhaps in clusters around them? In my region we have MPs who live cheek by jowl with constituencies with less than 50 members; councils with no councillors. I appreciate targeting. I just think it’s gone too far and unless we make a real effort to build resources across the board, one of these days the call will go out for all and sundry to rush to the target seats and no one will – because there will be no one left!

by Martin Land on October 10, 2007 at 8:36 pm. Reply #

You talked @ 40, Martin, of developing ways of becoming a mass political movement in a new age. So it seems to me that you have two (linked) interests, the immediate preservation of the party in your locality qua 55, and a wider take on how we move forward with mass communications. The former includes targetting of lapsed memberships, the latter includes practical doorstep recruitment by MPs, MEPs etc – and is there more?

by Alix on October 10, 2007 at 10:16 pm. Reply #

Lot’s more Alix, but I’m not sure anyone is listening. I’m trying some experiments this winter in my neck of the woods; if it works, I’ll try to find someone who does. Initial indications are promising.

by Martin Land on October 11, 2007 at 6:18 pm. Reply #

Could one of you chaps up at LDV Command please help me with stats before my brain turns to mush? I make it 28 posters in total on this thread, of which 7 wanted Ming to go, of which 2 were anonymous. Is that right? I am just interested in the “swamped” comment from the Telegraph (and also in the way that they quote one poster, the verbose and unwieldy Warrior, as two different people. And on that subject, did that poster’s email address end in at all?)

by Alix on October 12, 2007 at 11:36 am. Reply #

Martin, I think there are a few of us out here who’re interested in your thoughts . . .

by Anthony F on October 12, 2007 at 12:06 pm. Reply #


Way to go, Alix!

by Paul Walter on October 12, 2007 at 12:42 pm. Reply #

Gosh! 60 posts already!

Where do we want (the party) to be in 18 months?

Dynamic, progressing, with a clarity of message and purpose.

Can that be achieved with the current leader?

On the evidence of the last 18 months, my view would be ….. No.

Should we have a new leader?

In my view ….. Yes.

by crewegwyn on October 12, 2007 at 1:10 pm. Reply #

Can I just say that as a Liberal Democrat for some years now, I really believe it’s time for a change. The defenstration that took place with Charles was unhelpful and I think we suffered as a party from it, but simply because that felt messy and unclean doesnt mean that we should hold back from a period of necessary self-examination and even the possible leadership contest that might follow.

It was unpleasant last time, but can you imagine the political interest of a competition between Huhne, Clegg and maybe someone like David Laws. The discussions would be intellectual and would really deliver a sense of direction for the party that at present I feel we lack. Sure we’ve unveiled some good policies and yes that matters, but the sense of ideology or purpose underpinning those escapes me somewhat and that can hardly be a good thing? Before I get some come-back about how its about Liberal values etc etc. I am more than aware of that, but we’re not articulating the instinctive difference between us and the others. I’m sorry Ming, but to my mind it’s important to step aside and allow us to seize the opportunity that 18 months with a new, charistmatic and youthful leader can deliver.

by Alexander on October 12, 2007 at 4:59 pm. Reply #

I think you really have to replace Ming or you are electorally doomed.
Time is pressing. There is a real danger that a significant number of LibDem MPs will lose their seats across Southern England.
The issue is three-fold.
1) In the superficial media-commentator led news agenda, the Ming is too old/too incompetent/too out of touch narrative is now fully bedded in and you will not be able to break it. Its too late. Hard fact. Whether you like it or not. Ming is a busted flush as far as the media is concerned. This is seriously damaging to your electoral prospects

2) You are not distinctive. With the two other parties dancing on a pin-head policy-wise you are left at the side of the dance-floor with no-one listening to you. It isn’t because you have nothing to say, it’s because it isn’t distinctive from the other two parties. Given your usual lack of media attention to compound the issue, no-one knows what you stand for. I’m a political anorak and would find it difficult to describe any of your policy positions.
3) And finally to hit a man when he’s down. The terms of public debate are moving sharply against you, or more importantly your public perception.

Whether it is true or not, you are seen as a party of high taxation, high levels of public spending and producer capture (e.g allowing healthcare professionals autonomy in running the NHS).
Public debate is now moving against this. After 10 years of New Labour and truly epic levels of tax n’ spend we still have people dying of hospital acquired infection in the NHS, truly awful educational standards and 5.4 Million people living in state financed poverty and unemployment hidden as incapacity. Public spending is now at such a high level that it will shortly breach the 600Bn level pa. Amazingly it is almost at the level wherby if public spending was cut to the 2002-3 fy level, we could abolish personal taxation!
Do you feel our public services are significantly better than they were in 2003? No neither do I.
The point I’m making is that the LibDems seem to stand for more of the same. NuLabs great spending experiment has failed, but the public perception is you want to reinforce this failure. Public debate is now tentatively moving to be around significant reform of public services, tax cutting and reducing the size of the (massive) state, stoked by a media that judges New Labour badly and wants a competition at the next election. This debate may (will?) mark the end of New Labour, if you are on the wrong side of it as public perception would have you, the tsunami will take you as well.

It is unlikely that I’ll vote LibDem at the next election, but I wish you well because we do need a distinctive voice in politics. Sadly a voice that under Ming, you are not providing.

PS Simon Huhges was awful on Question Time last night. Never allow him near a TV camera.

by Mike on October 12, 2007 at 5:01 pm. Reply #

Eh? I’m no fan of Hughes, but I thought he was great last night.

by Laurence Boyce on October 12, 2007 at 5:42 pm. Reply #

The only way anyone will get public support is to do away with “party leaders” and replace them with a proper genuine democratic steering committee who are guided by what the population actually want rather than “what the party wants”.
The last twenty years have been proof that democracy is dead in this country (and Europe) and the “man in the street” will not support Big Brother no matter what colour his rossette.

by catgate on October 12, 2007 at 5:42 pm. Reply #

We need leaders.

by Laurence Boyce on October 12, 2007 at 5:44 pm. Reply #

Unless I’m a Christmas Tree, and I’m not, we have a lot of astroturfing going on here trying to create/exploit the telegraph article.

by David Morton on October 12, 2007 at 7:14 pm. Reply #

Expect further developments shortly.

by Greg Stone on October 12, 2007 at 8:14 pm. Reply #

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