The Liberal Democrats have often talked of replacing the Conservatives as the real alternative to Labour, however whilst they haven’t achieved that in terms of seats and share of the vote, they seem to be going all out to do it in terms of hitting the self-destruct button in full glare of the public, something the Conservatives had down to a fine art during the past few years. So just as the Conservatives get the point and have a relatively trouble free leadership election, the Liberal Democrats look to be trying to take over the mantle, with a group of Liberal Democrat MP’s publicly threatening to resign, rather than work under Charles Kennedy. This seems to be at odds with the apparent support that Kennedy is receiving from party members.
However, what is most interesting looking down the list of MP’s in the group is that none of the really well known potential leaders are on the list. The media talks about Senior MP’s and peers, but note how it is the relatively unknown Liberal Democrat MP’s who are appearing in the media. Not names like Simon Hughes, who said he will make no announcement on whether he will stand until he fulfils his official role of chairing the committee overseeing the election arrangements (and I would be surprised if he does stand on his own). Not Sir Menzies Campbell, who although he has been critical of Kennedy in the past, told reporters â€œI have said on many occasions that I would not stand in a leadership election against Charles Kennedy, and I confirm that again this evening.â€? Another possible candidate, Mark Oaten has said â€œI will be actively campaigning for Charles as he reconfirms the members’ support.â€? Lembit Opik, leader of the party in Wales pointed out that Kennedy has delivered increased seats at each General Election, and personally he had â€œtaken a courageous step which goes way beyond politics. You add those two things together and you’ve got the sign of a leader with real personal integrity.â€?
There is a real possibility that in a vote of the members, despite all this, Kennedy could retain the leadership, although a quick straw poll of people who I know are members finds definite groups both for and against Kennedy, some saying he should go, and others highlighting that there are, and have been a number of high profile alcoholics, the majority of whom kept it quiet – common examples being George W Bush and Winston Churchill. However what is interesting is that whether they would vote for Kennedy or not, they are all critical of the way the whole thing is being played out in the media. Indeed one, whose membership renewal has recently arrived is so disgusted with the whole way some of the MP’s are acting that they are sitting on the renewal until they see how things turn out.
Of course all of this is exactly why we now have the letter, any potential rivals are remaining loyal to the wishes of the members, so the only available option for the list of relative unknown ‘senior Liberal Democrat’ politicians on the list is to hit the political equivalent of the nuclear launch button, and like any nuclear conflict, there will be no winners.
Unfortunately, far from the idea that this will take the Liberal Democrats forward building on the record gains in 2005, these MP’s don’t seem to have learnt from the experience of the Conservatives that this sort of thing doesn’t help, just gives the media something to talk endlessly about, and stir up even more, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Liberal Democrats slide come May, and if my straw poll is anything to go by the membership fall. Seriously, I think the MP’s on the list need to take a step back from what they are doing, and ask themselves why it is that the potential new leaders are all ruling themselves out. Unfortunately, rather than doing that, I suspect they might end up resigning and then putting forward a total unknown for the election, we’ll wait and see.