Friday, October 19, 2007

Why Ming Campbell was right to resign

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News. Since I wrote it, it has become apparent that we shall probably not get a proper debate on policy this time either.

A snappy headline

My plan this week was to look at Mark Oaten’s adjournment debate on children in prison. I was ready with the wry observation that the only 17-year-olds you dare call “children” these days are those who have been banged up for a serious offence. Instead, I have to tackle the decline and fall of the Ming Dynasty.

Sir Menzies did the right and noble thing - both for himself and for the party. It was clear his leadership was chiming with neither the press nor with the public. Nor, it has to be admitted, was it chiming with large sections of his own party.

I always believed we should have chosen a younger leader last time round. In particular, we should have had a full slate of candidates to choose from. Those - lets call them “Sir David Steel” - who suggested that Ming’s should be the only name on the ballot paper set before Liberal Democrat members were hopelessly misguided. Even the contest we were permitted failed to reinvigorate the party with a proper debate on policy.

It must also be admitted that Ming could sometimes appear a rather elderly 66 - quite understandably, in view of his illness a few years ago. But the way he was ridiculed for his age tells us something unpleasant about modern British society. It suggests we no longer have any respect for age, wisdom or dignity.

I think in particular of the Mock the Week show that went out in September just after our Conference. This is the BBC2 programme where five leading comedians and Russell Howard improvise comedy based on the week‘s headlines. For 10 or 15 minutes they unleashed a tirade against Ming, all of it based on the assumption there is something inherently funny about being old. If they had attacked a woman or someone who was gay or black in the same way they would never have worked for the BBC again.

It must have been particularly galling for Ming - a former Olympic sprinter and British record holder - to suffer this. You suspect he could have given his most of his critics ten yards’ start and still beaten them. Perhaps he should have issued that challenge?


Anonymous said...

I saw that episode of Mock the Week, and it was much as you describe, except that Russell Howard was quite supportive of the Liberal Democrats.

Oh, and chairman Dara O'Briain managed a decent comeback: one of the less funny guest panellists said "Paul McCartney's the same age as Ming Campbell, and which one would you rather have running the country?", to which Dara replied "Well, Ming Campbell, actually".

Maybe you had to be there.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the Party should have a wide choice of candidates, but am unclear why this should be presented as synonymous with "having a proper debate on policy". Uniquely, now, among the Parties, the Lib Dems rightly pride themselves that the Party in Conference makes policy and not the Leader. If the Party has failed to properly define its principles and then to derive its policies from these (which it has - see Simon Titley on this), then that is a failing. It may even have been a failing of the leadership to promote such a debate and it will be interesting to see which of the candidates are interested in inspiring a debate on principles/policy and which are not. But a Leadership election is not really the place for the Party to debate its policies. Unless it wants to become a Leader cult like the other two...

Have a great break in Shropshire. Very jealous.

Anonymous said...

Profoundly dismayed that such a mere stripling should have been forced from office by the baying curs of Fleet Street. His best years are ahead of him. Now I have returned I too look forward to revisiting those Salopian lanes that you depict. I fear it may be a harder endeavour to reinvigorate the rump of my great party.