Why Labour must wish they were led by Ming Campbell

by Stephen Tall on June 9, 2009

Spot the difference.

They both were elected to Parliament during the Thatcherite 1980s, each having risen to youthful prominence through their own talents (one as rector of Edinburgh University, the other as an Olympic sprinter), before dedicating their lives to public service. They both served with very real distinction in their respective front-bench positions, each earning deserved praise for their mastery of economic and foreign affairs respectively. They both long harboured a powerful yearning to lead their parties, but each shrunk from the opportunities when they first arose (in 1994, after John Smith’s death; and in 1999, after Paddy Ashdown’s resignation). They both finally attained the leadership of their respective parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, after their predecessors were forced from office.

Once in power, both Gordon Brown and Ming Campbell found leading their political party not quite as much fun, nor quite as well-suited to their otherwise exceptional talents, as each must have expected or wished. Both found their leadership styles were becoming the story, with the failures of each magnified and their successes obscured, and that the popularity of their parties were suffering as a direct consequence.

And there the similarities end.

Because Gordon Brown is determined to stick around, come what may, regardless of the damage that it wreaks on the Labour party. While Ming Campbell coolly appraised his own chances of making his leadership of the Lib Dems a success, recognised it wouldn’t happen, and quietly and honourably resigned so that the party could choose a new leader who might succeed.

How Labour must wish today that they had a leader like Ming Campbell.