Vince on Ming’s leadership: “under discussion, not under threat”

by Stephen Tall on October 15, 2007

Vince Cable, the Lib Dems’ deputy leader, has had this to say to the BBC about the future of Ming Campbell’s leadership:

“It’s certainly under discussion. But I don’t think it’s under threat and I think the key point for all our activists and MPs and lords is that we shouldn’t panic in what is a very volatile political environment.”

He added: “I remember in the middle of our party conference, which was only a few weeks ago, our leader was being shown in some polls to be more popular than David Cameron. Brown was ruling the roost: he was the hero of the hour – he’s now the ‘zero’. I mean, in this kind of extremely turbulent, volatile environment it is absolutely foolish to rush into decisions with major long-term implications.”

I imagine Vince hoped his statement would be seen as supportive. And he’s right that decisions taken hastily can turn out disastrously.

But his position strikes me as dangerous and wrong, because what the party absolutely cannot afford to happen is months of leadership speculation with no resolution in sight. There could be nothing more demoralising for party activists and members, nothing more undignified for the party, nothing more of a turn-off for the British public, and nothing more unfair to Ming after long and devoted service to the party.

The long, slow death by a thousand off-the-record briefings inflicted on Charles Kennedy in the months leading up to his resignation was a low point in this party’s history. Few of our Parliamentarians covered themselves in glory: loose lips sunk a lot of Lib Dem ships during that time.

In a way, Vince is right: I wish there were more time to consider the major long-term implications. I am not someone who is convinced a change of leader is a panacea (more of a placebo). But with each passing day of uncertainty Ming’s credibility suffers. Decision day cannot be put off indefinitely, as Gordon Brown recently found out to his cost.