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Monday, October 15, 2007

Ming resigns

When I wrote back in July last year that it was 'Time for Ming to shape up' I did so because I genuinely felt that a thoroughly decent and honourable man was struggling with the role that he had taken on. I was honestly stating what I felt at the time and perhaps I was being a bit unfair, but in the end I was impressed at the way that he slowly pulled himself into the role, took charge of the party and projected an essentially liberal outlook.

By the end of that year I was able to write that 'in my view Sir Menzies Campbell has started to grow into his role as Liberal Democrat leader over the past year. His Common's performances, although in no way startling in their brilliance, have improved; he has taken the party's internal organisation by the scruff of the neck and shaken it up until it started to show some shape; and he has started to make use of a very talented team of MPs to stake out clear policy positions that will serve us well in future election campaigns.'

That Ming ultimately failed to make the sort of impact needed as leader was not his fault. As others have said, he was the right person in the right job at the wrong time. This was not about his age but about his inability to connect with ordinary people in the same way that Charles Kennedy had done before him. Under Ming the party became more professional, it adopted a radical, coherent and liberal policy position that has the potential to make us stand out from the others and for the first time in my memory we started to benefit from a leader's team-building skills in bringing forward talented MPs and allowing them to develop their own profile around a portfolio.

Where we fell down was in our lack of a narrative. We have failed to find a niche in the post-Blair, post-Iraq war, post-student fees Britain. It helps of course if we are able to build that narrative around a popular and/or forceful leader, after all many voters come to us in search of an alternative to Labour and the Conservatives and are influenced by such considerations, but the vision-thing is essential if we are to build a long-term future for our party.

In many ways I thought we were getting there. The strong emphasis on civil liberties and individual rights being championed by Nick Clegg and his team, the development of a strong green agenda under Chris Huhne and the radical, competent, tax-switching agenda being promoted by Vince Cable all combine to form a coherent and distinctive policy agenda that places the Liberal Democrats at the cutting edge of British politics. There were signs too that we were prepared to take principled and liberal stances on unpopular issues so as to move debate on, though I regret that we did not go far enough in our opposition to the renewal of Trident and that we only cautiously edged our way into calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

In the midst of all this we got caught in a classic squeeze and unfortunately Ming did not have the public recognition and popular strength to drag us out of it, at least in the short term. That he recognised this himself and tendered his resignation without the party having to go through all the angst and upset of a few years ago is to his credit. He is a true gentleman and a good liberal, a man of substance, a genuine human being, a skilful and dedicated party politician and a respected statesman.

That we are now able to choose from so many potential alternative leaders within the Parliamentary Party is largely down to Ming. I do not yet know the choice that will face us but I am confident that whoever emerges from this leadership election will be able to use their honeymoon period to start pushing us back up in the polls and to turn our many policy strengths into the sort of narrative that will take us to greater things when the General Election eventually comes.

It is not right to start looking at the runners and riders in what is essentially a tribute piece to Ming, but my view is that if there is an election (and I believe that there will be) then it will come down to a contest between Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne. At this stage I could not possibly say who I might vote for out of these two, but it may surprise those who believe that Nick Clegg is of the right that I do not share that view and that I am as equally prepared to consider voting for him as I am for Chris Huhne. The deciding factor will be the vision being promoted by each candidate, their view of how our party should be positioning itself and the narrative that they wish to bring to the job.

For now however, it is a moment when we must give thanks to Sir Menzies Campbell. We should not forget his contribution easily. If we come out of the next General Election with substantially the same or more seats then it will be down to the work he put in and the way he conducted himself as leader.
Thank you for this dignified piece, Peter. It's right to remember the shambles that we seemed just 19 months ago, and Mong has helped us through that.

I can't help feeling relieved for Ming that the ageist baiting's over, and sorry for our country that we have all allowed our politics to be reduced to this.
I repeat what I said in various places - that if Ming had been leader going in to the 2005 election, his statesmanlike image would have played better than Charles Kennedy's, and that we would have therefore emerged with nearer 70 seats than 60; that the third most powerful person in the US (and therefore the world), the speaker of the House, is four years older than Ming, so the age thing was ridiculous; and that he has been the victim of MPs who have their own agenda or have been unduly panicked by the media, especially the BBC.

Our performance in real elections, rather than opinion polls, has stood up. Conversely, the Tories have not performed as well as the headlines have suggested.

> it will come down to a contest
> between Nick Clegg and Chris
> Huhne.
Steve Webb has also been mentioned in various quarters. Any of the three would do a good job. To that extent, Ming's resignation has not damaged the party. However, the thought that the media are strengthened in their belief, that they can bring down any politician they choose, is awful.

- Frank Little
From an outsider's perspective the Lib Dems are in dissarray in the Assembly with no-one seemingly wanting Mike G to stand beyond next year's local elections; the party leader in Wales has stood down and is now a media joke and to top it all Sir Ming, who I always thought was a very sincere, experienced and capable politician, has been hounded out for his age. To suggest that your party "isn't damaged" is bonkers. Better to ask the people than party activists. If local elections were called now then the outcome would be questionable for all parties.
Ming did the dignified thing i suppose. it is such a shame that Mike German will not do the same thing. Give it up Mike.
Ming is a principled politician, someone who would be an asset to the party if there was a coalition after the next election.

Cameron has no substance and because hes younger and looks better on tv, he carrys on as leader of the Torys.

Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats
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