Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Ming Dynasty

Now that Kennedy has resigned, it seems to me like Menzies Campbell will be a shoe-in for the Lib Dem leadership. Not just because of the YouGov poll today which showed his popularity, but because any of the other contenders would be too contentious. I know Richard disagrees with me on this, but I still believe the Lib Dem Parliamentary party is too split to take a leader from either side, be it Hughes or Oaten, without internal strife. And given the fact that Kennedy has appeared to have been living on borrowed time since the party conference, images of dissension are the last thing the party needs. One only needs to look at the Tories to see how a public images of splits is tremendously damaging.

Campbell, therefore, will appeal to people both as an "elder statesmen", but also as a Nelson Mandela sort of figure - someone who people seem to like without really knowing what he stands for. His leadership will need to be stronger than Kennedy's, emerging to push the discussion in certain directions through his authority as leader; yet he must avoid being confrontational at all costs.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats need more leadership, though, they still need someone who will be suitably vague. There doesn't appear to be a clear definition of where the party is going, if you listen to the front bench. People are able to articulate what they want the party to do, but are much less clear about saying what the party's policies are at any particular time. The discussion about a change in direction, although it should be aired in the leadership contest, has to be carried out over a longer period of time, and as internally as party mechanisms and parliamentary egos allow.

That's why I think Campbell is the best choice for the Lib Dems. Hughes and Oaten are too closely aligned with different factions for their election to be good for the party. None of the younger guys, however talented they may be (and reports are that they are good, although their inexperience is still their defining characteristic), have the public profile to be able to lead at the moment - and I somewhat doubt they would get enough air-time to pull off a David Cameron. For all that I may lampoon the Lib Dems for never really knowing what they mean, they need to continue that vagueness until the party debate has been carried out in full. Anyone other than Campbell would be too damaging.