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Friday, January 06, 2006


When I was standing at the back of the Charles Kennedy press conference yesterday I noted that a journalist in front of me had written down the names of two politicians at the top of his notebook- Winston Churchill and George Brown. Both of these politicians served at the highest levels of government whilst frequently drunk. It is also the case that the current President of the United States is a recovering alcoholic. The key issue is whether those around them and the electorate at large believe that they are capable and competent enough to do the job they have been elected to do.

Having been my party's social justice spokesperson, I have done a lot of work with organisations who deal with drug addicts and alcoholics. I understand that it is an illness and that it can be controlled. I do not believe that Charles Kennedy is any less capable of doing his job because of his problem. Indeed the evidence is that he is seeking to control it. The question has to be asked though whether two months of being 'dry' is sufficient to give us confidence that he has got it under control enough to carry on?

I must admit that when I posted yesterday I was not aware of the extent to which Charles Kennedy had denied his condition publicly. Our opponents are keen to label him a liar but, as Lembit Opik pointed out on Radio Wales this morning, denial is an intrinsic part of alcoholism and I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, the issue of trust and honesty is a big one, simply because we as a party have made it a major attribute of the Liberal Democrats.

It is now clear that Charles' attempt to head-off his MPs at the pass has not worked. Key members of his team are continuing to put pressure on him to stand down, whilst declining to openly challenge him in the forthcoming leadership contest. I got the impression yesterday that the problem is not just his drink problem or the direction in which he is leading the party, but also his style of leadership. Many of the MPs do not consider him to be accessible, they dislike the way that they are excluded from key decisions and they are unhappy that he failed to keep his promise to appoint a PPS.

Personally, I have found Charles' collegiate style to be refreshing. He has not always led from the front but he has sought to reconcile differences and find a way through them. He is popular amongst party members and in the country, largely because he is considered to be a good bloke, an ordinary person doing an extraordinary job. Despite the fact that I did not support him in the last leadership contest I have come to respect him and value his leadership. Although I recognise that the time may have come for both the party and him to move on I have resisted such thoughts because I have been unhappy with those alternative leaders who have so far presented themselves. It is time for me to come out of denial.

The worst possible scenario is that Charles stands for leader and is re-elected unopposed. I asked yesterday whether those who have been briefing against him have the guts to stand in opposition to him. It seems that they do not. Charles therefore has to be persuaded to stand aside altogether and to allow a proper contest for the job. We all reach a time when we must move on. Charles Kennedy's leadership and the Liberal Democrats have now come to the parting of the ways.

How that happens is difficult to foresee. There may well be a no-confidence vote at Tuesday's Parliamentary meeting. What I hope is that we can avoid any more of the off-the-record and even on-the-record briefings that are doing so much damage to the party. If possible Charles needs to make the decision himself and go with the dignity and respect that he has earned during his time in charge. Nobody needs this level of grief anymore.
It is also the case that the current President of the United States is a recovering alcoholic.

Not the best example of a competent politician but there we go... A
"Our opponents are keen to label him a liar"

Are you able to provide evidence of this Peter?

As far as I am aware, neither Labour or the Conservatives have tried to "label him a liar".
Hello Peter, it's Harry here from Ceredigion. I don't know if I have met you but I met Kirsty, Mick, Mike, Eleanor and Jenny at the Royal Welsh Show last year. I've got a blog on this scheme as well and posted something about this earlier in the day. I'd like to know if you would have a read of it and assure me as a Lib Dem party member, activist and volunteer that I won't have to defect to the SDP
Our opponents do not just lie in the Labour and Conservative parties David. Harry, I think the SDP has ceased to exist.
Hi Peter

First. congratulations on your post. To be honest I have thought you were rather in denial the last few weeks. I hope Charles will carry on a very high level in the Lib Dems, but not, at least for the moment, at the highest level.

Second, anyone who has read politicalbetting today wil have seen many people form Labour and the Conservatives (but especially the latter calling Kennedy (and the rest of us) liars.
What's so strange about politicians telling lies ??? !!!

So, Peter, as I read it you think CK has done nothing wrong, but he should resign anyway, yeah?
Crudely, yes! Charles has lost the confidence of the people he is leading. His position is now unsustainable.

Despite my persistant requests, you have still failed to provide evidence of your "opponents" labelling your leader a "liar".

I am glad the you acknowledge that neither Labour (or the Tories for that matter) have tried to "label him a liar".

So can you please tell us who exactly you are pointing the finger at?
Hardly matters now - he's fallen on his sword !!!
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