Thursday, January 05, 2006

Kennedy: Now we all need a drink

The BBC reports:

Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy has called a leadership contest after admitting he has been battling with a drink problem.

He said he was determined to carry on as leader but wanted to give party members the "final say".

Mr Kennedy - who has previously denied a drink problem - admitted seeking "professional help" to beat the bottle.

This seems to me the worst of all possible developments. As I said in my comments on Susan Kramer's interview yesterday, the danger is that Kennedy will be re-elected by the wider membership yet continue not to be trusted by a large part of the parliamentary party. Such a position will not be sustainable and we shall be in a bigger mess than we are now

What Kennedy should have done was to ask for a vote of confidence from the parliamentary party. Going to the country over the head of his colleagues looks like at attempt to disguise how weak his position with them has become.

Already it sounds as if none of the credible alternative candidates is going to stand. This means that the leadership election will not settle the other long-running problem with Kennedy's leadership: the lack of a clear strategy.

In our therapeutic state Kennedy's admission of his drink problem may even make him more popular with the public. But that will not give the party the sense of direction it currently lacks.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what “a large part of the parliamentary party” thinks replacing Charles would actually achieve. Do they imagine that the challenges that the party faces will magically melt away with a new leader?

Surely Cameron is showing daily that a fresh leader can’t achieve much if the policies are lacking, which is presumably why he’s either making them up as he goes along (chocolate orange), masking their absence with celebrity name-dropping (Sir Bob) or just borrowing ours (youth volunteering).

Instead of this pointless intrigue, the malcontents in our party would be better engaged in helping the Meeting The Challenge exercise to spark new ideas like a Catherine wheel. That’s where the party’s direction should come from.

Anonymous said...

Let's, for the sake of argument, consider a hypothesis.

Kennedy has a drink problem. This problem is preventing him from fulfilling his duties, but nobody wants to say so publicly, partly because he's a genuinely nice chap and nobody wants to air his dirty washing in public.

This might be the reason behind the recent briefings; perhaps those briefing actually think Kennedy would be better off out of the job (think House of Cards, it's a "mercy killing", he was "in the trap and screaming from the moment he took office" etc.). Imagine being one of those who is confronted with the secret knowledge that Kennedy isn't up to the job, yet mindful of his public popularity and not wishing to do anything to harm it. What would you do?

The problem for Kennedy now is that his leadership can never be secure again. Suppose he doesn't beat the alcoholism? Suppose being party leader is what's preventing him from doing so? And if he does beat it, can we really believe him, given that he's effectively lied about it until now? No, he's fatally - tragically, in fact - compromised himself.

My personal prediction is this whole sorry mess will lead to Ming Campbell being elected as a "safe pair of hands" candidate. Those who would like to see Nick Clegg as leader eventually would like this outcome well enough.

Personally, I think that if we're going to have a leadership election we should do so properly, with all of the major candidates setting out a vision and standing by it, for the party to choose - not all that different from the Tory campaign, which did them a lot of good. Sadly, we may face the unenviable situation of having a challenge that is less open, and expresses less vision than the Tories. And that really is bad.

David said...

Agreed that Kennedy's decision is the worst possible. His colleagues should now persuade him to stand down and they should stand against him if he doesn't. People may well vote out of personal sympathy when they should make a political judgement. He is now a liability. His greatest asset with the public was that he was one of the few politicians the public trust, but they won't now. As the BBC keeps repeating, he's lied.

Stephen Glenn said...

As everyone know the first step the AA say a recovering alcoholic has to make is to acknowledge he/she has a problem.

In other worlds a person sufferning from alcoholism is lying but firstly they are lying to themselves that there actually is a problem. For the last 18 months Charles has admitted he is fond of the drink he has also acknowledged on occasions that he trying to cut down or cut it out.

The fact is the BBC has been slective in the quotes it has used. He has be open that he is seeking to cut down on a number of occasions, at conference speeches and elsewhere.

So to say he is lying is not true. Most recovering alcoholics have the priveledge to start resolving out of public glare. The press has been running with jibes about Charles drinking for longer than he has been leader of the party.

Anonymous said...

I particularly enjoy the way various people crawl out of the woodwork to claim that Kennedy is "harming the party". I mean, I suppose it's possible. But the damage he does is nothing compared to the damage done by the sniping and the backstabbing and the rumours and the air of discontent.

I don't see that being an alcoholic should be a big issue--it isn't for everyone's favourite fascist over there in the US. Certainly, not a problem as big as real or perceived internal divisions and squabbling.

It's as if non of the Lib Dems have paid even the slightest bit of attention to what has happened to the Tory party. You'd think they might at least have the sense to present a unified front.