Monday, August 07, 2006

Charles Kennedy: "Politics and Power"

I have not seen much comment on Charles Kennedy's Channel 4 programme last week, though there is an exception here. There does not seem to be much about it on the Channel 4 site either, but Charles had an article on the Guardian's Comment is Free blog giving the gist of his argument:
It seems to me that this is a reflection of the increasing tendency in British politics to play down the big, divisive issues - particularly at election time. Several issues will cast a long shadow across the lifetime of the current parliament and beyond: Trident, for example, the future role of civil nuclear power and the recurrent reality of Britain's place within Europe. These are all real issues of strategic substance that cut across conventional party political lines, but as they're not considered "vote winners" they were barely raised during the last election.

At election time politicians from all parties knew that these were key issues and yet they were not actively debated. Why? Because they weren't important? No. It was because the debate wouldn't have helped win votes.

While there was little to disagree with in the programme, I was surprised to hear those views coming from Charles. I served on the Federal Policy Committee for several years whilst he chaired it as leader, and never gained the impression that he had strong views on policy questions.

Veterans of the Ashdown years remember pre-meetings of loyalists to ensure that the leadership's line prevailed. There was nothing like this in Charles Kennedy's day: he just chaired the meetings impartially. In a way this was welcome, but it did suggest that Charles great appeal as leader was that he did not threaten any wing of the party.

It allowed all sorts of policy to develop, but how well it all fitted together is another matter. There was a feeling that the party lacked direction, and it was this that did for Charles in the end - quite apart from any "health" problems.

The idea that a party's leader must originate all of its policy is a modern heresy, but he should have some interest in the area. Charles seemed to lack that interest, which is why I do not take talk of his returning to the leadership one day too seriously.


Peter Mc said...

Well he was scheduled against the test highlights on 5 on a day when Pietersen was swatting all comers to all corners.

Tristan said...

Indeed, the impression I have from talking to people who've been involved in the party far longer than me (and have a far better grip on practical politics) is that Kennedy sought to avoid confrontation with any of the wings of the party. This just leads to problems as the policies fail to fit together and become a hotch-potch.
An example appears to be local income tax which whilst it is trumpeted by the leadership seems to have little support from either the 'left' or 'right' wing of the party, but appears to have come about as an attempt to reconsile perceived differences in the party...

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

Having sat on the FE for much of the same period, and watched Kennedy sit back while his henchmen swatted away people making similar points to those he is now making, I had a similar reaction to reading that article.