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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Kennedy resigns

It has been a sad day for Liberal Democrats everywhere. Although Charles Kennedy's decision to resign was inevitable and in the best interests of the party, it should not detract from the huge contribution he has made to our cause. He has proved to be a popular and politically courageous leader, who led us through two General Elections to our best results since the 1920s. His speech today was dignified as he has been throughout. It underlined his talent and the tragedy that his own problems prevented him from going on to even greater things.

As I said yesterday, I believed that Charles' position had become unsustainable. Despite his protestations, his alcoholism had undermined his effectiveness, whilst his style of leadership appears to have succeeded in alienating many of his colleagues. As Lynne Featherstone writes on her blog, the Parliamentary Party she joined in May 2005 was "pretty dysfunctional....held in a limbo because of what is now clear - a lack of strategic direction from the leadership." Much of this has only become clear to the wider party in the last 36 hours.

Nevertheless, this is not the end of a third party force as some hope. Parties have gone through leadership crises before and have emerged strengthened and renewed. In the case of the Liberal Democrats, the periods before the election of David Steel and Paddy Ashdown, prove that can happen.

So far only one candidate for the succession has declared his hand. Menzies Campbell could well prove to be the man who can give the Liberal Democrats the gravitas and authority we need. He may well too prove to be somebody who can bring together and reconcile factions within the Parliamentary Party, to quickly heal the sores of the past few weeks and to help us to present a clear liberal alternative to Cameron's policy-lite Conservatives and Blair's tired Labour Party.

It is too early to say who I will be supporting - the party has not yet decided how it will proceed - but I suspect that like many other members I will be looking for somebody who can steer us past ideological divisions of the past, no matter how insignificant and over-inflated, into clear Liberal waters. From that point I believe that we will enjoy more electoral success and prove once more to be a beneficial force for change in the UK.
Even if Ming the merciless becomes leader by acclamation I fear the whispering will not die down totally and the Lib Dems will take time to put this episode behind them.

Images of the eponymous 'men in grey suits' who used to trigger regicide in the Tory Party spring to mind.

For the Party's sake a genuine leadership election is probably a must. The new leader needs a mandate from the Party as a whole, although given the upcoming English local elections a brief interegnum followed by a summer contest might be the way to go.

Perhaps the process of electing a new UK leader will provide a window of opportunity for the Welsh Lib Dems to consider their own leadership?
Classic line from Tom Watson ...

"Menzies Campbell is the new leader.

We have the Blairites. The Tories have the Cameroons. Presumably the Lib Dems now have the Mingers."

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