Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mercy For Ming

Guido has a wonderful image of Ming Campbell and Vince Cable juxtaposed with the Muppets. It is apt indeed; since becoming acting leader Campbell has been nothing short of a disaster at PMQs - the one time when the leader of the third party (no matter their pretensions) is publically visible. This reached its height last week, when Blair gave Campbell the political equivalent of a bitch-slapping despite the fact Campbell had chosen to ask about the Home Office - an open goal if ever there was one.

Guido writes of Campbell today:

Today Blair checked himself as Ming went off notes and mumbled his question, Blair struggled to suppress a smirk. So bad was the meandering question that Blair restrained himself and didn't counter-punch. Professional politicians on all sides recognised that as a merciful professional courtesy to a man in deep difficulties.

I beg to differ. Campbell is so bad that Blair does not want to beat up on him. As things stand, Campbell is possibly Blair's, and Labour's, biggest electoral asset. It does not take a vicious put down from the Prime Minister for anyone watching PMQs to realise that Campbell is an incompetent old buffer - or a "statesman" in Lib Dem code.

The greatest shift that occurred in British politics during the leadership of Charles Kennedy was the repositioning of the Lib Dems as the major opposition to Labour - often opposition from the left - in the urban centres of Britain. That resulted in some surprising results at the last election, including the wins of Manchester Withington and Hornsea and Wood Green.

With a resurgent Tory party, however, anti-Tory feeling among traditional Labour supporters will undoubtedly rise, and the Liberal Democrats will require strong leadership to convince those voters to continue to back them. It would surprise me if Ming Campbell could inspire the most frenzy-filled conference chamber, let alone sceptical voters who may not for much longer see his party as the "least-worst" option.

The fact is that a weak Lib Dem party is an asset for Blair; the disaffected voters who switched over Iraq, and liked the sound of a 50% tax rate are natural left-wing voters, and will try and keep the Tories out at all costs.

Blair wasn't being merciful in not sticking the knife into Campbell at PMQs today. He was protecting his strongest asset.