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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Time for Ming to shape up

When Charles Kennedy was forced out by MPs against the wishes of the membership, they gave as their reason that the party was going nowhere. They were dissatisfied with Charles' leadership style and with the impact of his 'health' issues.

Now we have the MPs' choice as leader and yet, despite successes in Dunfermline and Bromley, our opinion poll ratings are stagnating and slipping back. Ming has made little impact with the public at large. The Parliamentary Party has effectively taken charge of our policy direction and strategy, whilst the leadership has established a lock on the party organisation irrespective of the party's democratic structures.

Ming is playing for very high stakes and in doing so has placed a great deal of his personal authority on the line. If things go wrong then there is nobody else to blame, he has made sure of that by the way he has gathered all the threads around him.

The next few months are going to be critical. In a week or two we will be publishing tax plans that have largely been drawn up by the Treasury Team. Worthy as they are, these proposals seem unfocussed and lack a clear narrative. It is my hope that once we see the full details that will change. However, it did not help that Ming felt it necessary to reveal details before the Commission had reported or the democratically-elected Policy Committee had decided whether to accept them or not.

The debate will, of course be critical but so too will Ming's performance at the Conference. We need to get some bounce in the polls out of that week in Brighton. When Simon Hughes said that Ming had until the end of the Conference season to prove himself he was absolutely right. So far the only people who appear to be totally content with the leader are the MPs. They have to realise that, important as they are, they are not the Party. Having experienced a coup de grace at the top, we are entitled to expect results. It is now time for Ming Campbell to start delivering on his promises and the expectations of success that are associated with him.
AFAIK when Charles Kennedy was forced out by MPs, they gave as their reason that he couldn't fulfil his duties because of his drink problem, as this article proves.

The fact that the party was going nowhere was the reason speculated by the Media.

I wish the Lib Dems will not panic because of short-term poll setbacks. I don't wish to see the party finding itself in a vicious circle of changing the leader over and over again, like the Tories used to. That really wouldn't benefit the party, though I'm sure that the Media would love it.
I am not panicking, what I am asking is that Ming starts to make the difference we were promised when Charles was deposed and he was elected Leader.
It is exactly this sort of talk that undermines his leadership. How can he ever succeed if everyone is having a pop instead of being supportive. I was as dissapointed as anyone when Ming won but he is our leader and we should support him until such times as he steps down or reveals a 'health problem'
Peter - poll ratings aren't great, but I think Stephen Tall has the right perspective on this:

As far as the tax proposals are concerned, I think there is an excellent Fairer, Simpler, Greener narrative in there - watch this space.

I would very much dispute the suggestion that the proposals have been formulated simply by the Treasury team. I think you underestimate the work done by the Tax Commission, most of whose members are not MPs and who were heavily focused on the politics as well as the technicalities of the policy. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!
PS - I was a strong advocate of retaining CK as leader, was unhappy at the 'coup' and Ming wasn't my first choice in the subsequent ballot, but I am nonetheless rather happy at the way things have progressed since. I'd rather a shoert-term dip in the polls (but all the right structural and policy changes happening) than vice versa.
"So far the only people who appear to be totally content with the leader are the MPs. They have to realise that, important as they are, they are not the Party."

However if Ming really has got it wrong, they are the ones who actually stand to lose their jobs.

The fact that its the MPs who seem most happy with what he's doing therefore speaks volumes, doesn't it.
Babahons, I might have said the same thing about Charles Kennedy's leadership but that did not stop MPs undermining it. If you live by the sword then you have to meet the expectations you create or you will die by the sword.

Stephen Tall does have a very balanced view but this is not about the opinion poll, it is about the direction and management of the party. That of course includes opinion polls over a period of time. I have a general election to fight next May, I think if the MPs also had to fight that General Election then they might take a more urgent view of these matters.
Apollo Project, the MPs are not the only ones who stand to lose their jobs. See my previous comment. However, it is not just about jobs it is about getting the party back on course and as far as I can see we are going backwards.
But what is it specifically that you obhject to in terms of the direction of the party? What is it that you would do differently?

To my mind the policy stuff has been excellent - not just tax but also on the foreign policy front, nuclear power, civil liberties etc.

There's also much evidence of greater professionalism in our media operation - and I've seen at first hand the improvements being made in campaigning (& lots more to come).

What is it that you don't like - and what would you do instead?
Re-read the text of the post.
I just did re-read it. Sorry, but I still don't see what alternative you're proposing ...?
Stop taking party members for granted, stop using the leader's authority to short-circuit policy debates, stop taking the party to the economic right and start getting out in to the Country and making a bigger impact as leader. It is all there!
I can't really see a replacement for Ming atm to be honest.

Simon Hughes? Maybe, but in large sections of the media I would imagine that he is seen as totally discredited.

Nick Clegg? An outstandingly good mind, and with potentially big electoral appeal, but suspect he'd sell us right down the river to the Tories if there was a hung parliament.

Charles Kennedy? Would he really want to stage a coup and risk another 'blood-bath'?!
I do not believe the party is going backwards, Opinion Polls are not the only measure of how a party is faring. True I would like to see Ming have more public profile, however I have seen many initiatives coming forward from the top that I find very encouraging and much needed. I also believe we have a very strong team behind Ming.

We have always played the long game rather than being blown around by public opinion.
Peter why is anyone and least of all an experienced politician like you bothered about what an opinion poll says and what the Tory biased media froth at the mouth over?
REAL polls show progress unless humiliating Cameron in Bromley and Blair (and Brown) in Dunfermline are not good results. The May elections results were also OK and even this week the council byelections show a gain from the Tories and two holds.
The fact that the BBC and no doubt the rest of the media will seize on your comment and suggest it is the "party's" view rather than looking at the REAL facts should remind you and everyone else in the party that standing 110% behind Ming and hitting Blair and Cameron with our punches and not ourselves is the best possible way forward to success

Can I please suggest you focus your energy on attacking the opposition (and the media)and not on giving them ammunition like this (however well intended)that they can use against us and Ming in particular

David Loader Esher Surrey
Peter you have a point that no leader, especially of the Liberal Democrats, can afford to take their members for granted. I have on occasion at conference been on and against the policy committees take on issues. As a result I have actually voted on the majority and minority by follwoing both approaches.

However, with reference to the tax proposals from what I have heard about them thus far I would tend to make be agree with the cat. You may well be surprised with the full body of what is being proposed. We may yet raise our badges at the same time in Brighton during that Motion.
"Stop taking party members for granted,"

Evidence? I'm a party member and I don't feel taken for granted. I think you're confusing "conference-attending activist" with "party member"

"stop using the leader's authority to short-circuit policy debates,"


"stop taking the party to the economic right"

Now this really is rubbish. I presume you are referring to the tax policy announcements. How on earth can you describe a redistributive tax policy as right-wing?

Shifting taxation away from income to wealth and environmental degradation is a liberal thing to do, and the right thing to do (not the Right thing to do).

If you want economically left-wing policies, join the Labour Party.

"and start getting out in to the Country and making a bigger impact as leader. It is all there!"

As you well know the media agenda is to big-up Cameron and diss Campbell. You're helping that along just fine.
I am disappointed that yet again we have provided wonderful ammunition for the Tory biased media to use against us

why does an opinion poll matter? REAL votes show great results like Dunfermline and Bromley. Even this week there was a gain from the Tories and two easy holds in local authority byelections when apparently the "Lib Dems are lsong support to the resurgent Tories".

when will this party learn that standing 110% behind the leader is absolutely crucial when the media is Tory run and will do anything it can to assist the Tories and return to the two party scenario (how often do you read the staggeringly stupid comment "the two main parties"

Ming has done nothing wrong, offered more leadership than Blair or Cameron (did either sign the Independents call for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon?) and frankly IS having an impact on the doorstep - a positive one

For heavans sake inquests are for after elections - winning is about strength, solidarity and team work

Stop helping the Tories and Labour and start supporting the leader -110%
Wow a post that turns into a whole BBC news story
David (and others), I am a Liberal Democrat not a Tory. If I am to get 100% behind the leader then he has to earn it, he does not get it as of right. That principle was well established when the Party ditched Charles Kennedy and some of the people using the media to undermine him will no doubt be deploring my open and honest expression of my own views. How things change.
No Peter. I was amopngst those who deplored the idiotic interventions of people like Ben Ramm, which did so much to damage Charles.

I thought ditching CK was wrong, and the manner of doing so was worse. But that has been done and we have a leader (not my first choice) elected by the membership.

Whilst I can appreciate that there's a sense of Schadenfeude or revenge to be had from posting as you have done, two wrongs don't make a right.

Surely you're better than the likes of Ben Ramm and the anonymous briefers? Perhaps you ought to lead by example rather than sinking to their level.

The alternative is that we end up fighting like ferrets in a sack - that didn't do Labour much good in the 80s, nor the Tories in the 90s, did it?
ps - I did you a longer post this morning including the specifics of teh tax plans, but it seems to have been lost in your filter :o(
Do you still agree with these comments Peter?


Good grief, does my party never learn? This article in today's Telegraph is yet another example of the behind-the-scenes briefing that undermines those of us who are fighting day-in, day-out for the Liberal Democrat principles and policies in our own community. It is precisely the sort of damaging tittle-tattle that led to the toppling of Charles Kennedy, except that this time the tittle-tattlers now appear to be running the party.
Yes, which is why I have posted openly what I consider to be a fairly balanced view on Ming's leadership. Nothing behind the scenes here.
OK, seeing as my earlier post seems to have been well and truly lost, I just wanted to pick up on your point on the tax plans. You suggest that we’re somehow “taking the party to the economic right” and I assume this can only be a reference to tax.

In fact the actual proposals from the Tax Commission entail:

· taking 2 million of the lowest paid out of tax altogether (and also rescuing them from very high marginal rates of lost benefits etc)
· reversing the trend (since 97) for a million extra middle income earners to be paying higher rate tax
· raising about 3 times as much as the old 50p rate proposals by instead abolishing higher rate pensions relief and certain CGT exemptions
· addressing inequalities in wealth as well as income, largely through the CGT changes

In all those respects (plus a few more for which I haven’t space) this is both a Liberal package and one which achieves more in the way of social justice than that in our 2005 manifesto.

How’s that a shift to the economic right??!
Wow, Lib Dem Blogs have come of age today.... and you have been brave to write what you have, Peter.

However I think your comments are a bit premature , the opinion poll changes aren't exactly massive and in real elections we are doing OK.

Talking to some of my local Tories, they aren't convinced about Cameron at all. I still think there's all to play for....

Ming wasn't my first choice either but he deserves our support.

However I would like to see more .... can't think of the word ... emphasis on why a Lib Dem govt would be better than a Labour or Tory one.

Maybe that's coming....
" Wow a post that turns into a whole BBC news story

Congratulations Mr Black, I hope this was the kind of publicity you were looking for.
Menzies Campbell is the best possible leader at this time of crisis in the Middle East.

Newspaper opinion poll ratings are spurious. You may not have noticed that Tories made no impact in this week's local by-elections, and that we successfully defended a seat in Norwich with an increased majority.

- Frank Little
I share many of your concerns. One of the perversities of the FPTP system is that a shift to the right by our party may well end up with fewer votes but more MPs. I guess Ming has woken up to that fact. It seems that everything Ming said during his campaign about uniting the party was nonsense - he's thrown out equidistance and jumped in with the tax-cutting orange revolutionaries.

I also fear for our party's democratic structures. Look what happened to the Labour party - taken over by the Blairite clique. Is this our fate too? Presenting policies on Focus leaflets as a fait accompli when they haven't even been finalised or voted on! I serve on a working party where the entire paper has been handed over to party hacks to draft.

Forget bogus calls for "unity". The leadership needs bringing in line in September or else our party democracy will be history.
I try to be even-handed about this.

I thought (and I'm pretty sure also said on the record) that the elected members who hamstrung the party by agitating in public to remove Kennedy were a bunch of self-indulgent twats who should have been put in a box and had the lid nailed firmly down.

I'm quite happy, in a spirit of fairness, to extend the same courtesy to people who haven't learned the lesson of those days.
Panakea, if you read this blog more often you would know that I do not write for effect. I write what I feel and think. Sorry if that does not fit into your cynical view of politicians.
Seeing as we are all in the habit of passing judgement on Mings record thus far, lets look at his record:

1. Dunfermline By-election - Victory with a huge swing!
2. Some losses but also some good gains whilst consolidating our by-election victories in the English Local Elections 2006.
3. Bromley and Chislehurst - Swing of 17% and narrowly missing victory by 633 votes.
4. A refocussed Parliamentary pary with sensible tax proposals - ditching the rediculous proposal of 50% tax on high incomes.
5. A sensible and balanced approach to Foreign Policy and our relationship with the US.

It is becoming more and more apparent to people that Sir Menzies Campbell is the voice of reason in Westminster.

We should certainly not judge Ming on the basis of one opinion poll in the Guardian, for that would be nothing more than self-defeatist and the Liberal Democrats are better than that.

We are supposed to be the party of Optimism aren't we? A party that offers hope to millions of voters who now realise that neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party listen to their views, opinions and concerns.

- Richie Northcote
(from Mike Cobley, Maryhill Libdems, Glasgow) Peter et al - like many, I had reservations about Ming but I knew that after the CK tragedy (which is what is was, no doubt about it), and the Mark Oaten imbroglio, he was basically the safe-pair-of-hands option. We`re always going to draw flack from the establishment media so Ming was the best option at a difficult moment. As for the rightward lurch - there have been some indicators of such, which does worry me as a former SDP member, although the tax threshold proposals strike me as quite creative and useful (certainly for myself, being a writer etc).

But at the moment, it seems to me that the overriding topic on which the Blair regime fails disastrously is the entire Iraq/Lebanon situation. Sure, our position since Charles took it is clear, and we`ve restated it again and again ever since. And that's the problem - despite public protest, despite criticism from MPs and in the media, the Blair galleon is sticking to its course, regardless of the death and destruction in its wake. It is not enough for us to keep reminding the public that we spoke out against the Iraq war; we now have to raise our game and up the ante. Ming should hold a press conference and announce that we consider the government's actions on Iraq and Lebanon to be against international law, and that our party if elected will hold a full public enquiry on every aspect of the UK's involvement in both the Iraq war and the Israeli attack on Lebanon. We should do this because it is the right thing to do, and because Blair is out of the country!
David Jackson, PSPC, Glasgow Baillieston. I appreciate your ability to say what you want, Peter, and I too face an election contest for the Scottish Parliament next May, so may have had similar concerns. However, as someone who DID vote Menzies as my first preference, I am a bit bemused as to why you are disappointed with him (remember that his ‘disastrous’ PM question time came prior to his election as leader). I voted for Menzies because 1 – he would be a contrast to a fairly vacuous Cameron, 2 – he had shown his ability to promote and get the best from his younger MPs and 3 – he had an eye for detail and would be able to look closely at party policy and ensure that it was properly thought through. I believe he has, thus far delivered very well on all 3. That is not to say that the court of public opinion agrees with that, but you surely cannot be convinced by a Tory party who have absolutely no policies, but 40% in the polls. We could perhaps have tried something similar. I am afraid that its not where I want to be. I want to be in power with principles and clear ideas. Menzies is delivering on that (he still needs to get any policy decided on at conference) and I for one don’t have a shred of doubt that he is going in the right direction.
As for a ‘coup’ deposing CK. I can tell you that I had close contact with the Greater Glasgow regional group during this time and we were extremely disappointed to find out that he had been lying to us over his alcohol problems when we had been telling all and sundry that it was a media witchunt. We contacted him as a group and told him it was time to go, and we weren’t the only ones. CK left, you will recall, just before a TV expose of his drinking problems. Some coup!

I have to agree with your comments about Ming.

When I hear him speak on the box he comes across as dull as ditch water.

A safe pair of hands he may be. That's all good and well if he was heading a business but in politics there has to be something special that attracts people to want to hear what a person has to say.

He's a perfect gent from the old school but he just lacks the charisma to excite people. He has no oomph about him. It has nothing to do with age but the personality of the man himself. This is bound to have a knock on effect on the party.
I don't have a cynical view of all politicians, just some of them.
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