Sunday, June 18, 2006

Kennedy: I was right to force contest

The BBC's Devon pages report an interview with Charles Kennedy by Chris Rogers, their South West Political Editor. Kennedy met him when he was in Newton Abbot to open new Lib Dem offices.

The most interesting part runs as follow:
"I haven't written any memoirs, but looking back there was an assumption that maybe we should have a change of leader without having a leadership election," he said. 
"In an area like the South West, with such a big membership and with one member, one vote, I think that would have been very demoralising. 
"The penultimate decision I took as leader was to trigger a leadership election. I was very pleased when that happened because it gives legitimacy to the new leader and the election re-invigorated the party.
Who was assuming that a new leader should be crowned without an election? I have not spoken to any party members who thought that would have been a good idea.

But perhaps there is a clue. At the time of the leadership crisis I was contacted by the Evening Standard. They were publishing an article by Sir David Steel and, having seen this blog, wanted to know if I would like to write a letter in reply. (It does make you terribly cynical when you find out how the media work.) I did so, though not living in London I do not know if it ever appeared.

They sent me a copy of what Steel had to say. Besides some ungracious remarks about the Lib Dem membership being enough to drive anyone to drink, it contained a clear call for Sir Menzies Campbell to become leader without a contest.

From this and Charles Kennedy's comments I deduce that there was a strong feeling against a contest at the top of the party. Put it down to a combination of presumption and panic. So all credit to those who stood against Ming to force a contest.

Charles Kennedy obviously believes he should have stood in the contest himself. That still seems to me a misjudgement as he had clearly lost the confidence of the larger part of his parliamentary party.

Looking back, it is clear that Kennedy should have stood down immediately after the last general election. He would then have been remembered with respect and affection across the political spectrum. And if he had later sorted out his personal problems and returned to the fray, he could have enjoyed the second political career that now looks rather unlikely. (Though never say never.)

Another intriguing question is whether Ming Campbell would have been a candidate if there had been a contest in May 2005.


Paul Walter said...

All good points Jonathan. I think Charles has a lot of service still to give the party in some shape or form. As to whether he should have stood down after the last election, I sometimes wonder whether he should have stood for leader in the first place.

Anonymous said...

We can certainly question whether Chris Huhne would have stood.

Paul W: Big question is how CK is getting on now he is no longer leader. Has the space and time out of the limelight helped him sort out his problems or have they just got even worse. I certainly hope the former.

Tony Ferguson said...

I was out of the country at the time of Charles resignation but even so I recall emailing a member of the FE arguing that there must be a proper contest and that any suggestion that there should be a coronation like Howard (as was being mooted in them media) should be opposed