Friday, January 06, 2006

A Rebuttal to Richard

Once again, Richard has lept to a spirited defence of Charles Kennedy. Once again, however, I feel that he is incapable of setting aside his personal feelings of loyalty to the party leader at the expense of seeing the greater good of the party.

The fact is that Charles Kennedy has not done anything of note for a couple of years now. The Lib Dems are now notable for their complete failure to have set the political agenda in any significant way since the Iraq war. Partially this is because it is very difficult to pin down exactly what the Liberal Democrats stand for, but in a much more serious form it is because Kennedy has failed to offer the defining critique of a government (or Conservative) policy, which is pretty damning in itself for someone who has claimed to be the real, or effective opposition.

Kennedy has now become the story for the Liberal Democrats, and it isn't an especially positive story, either. He's now admitted that he has continuously and repeatedly lied to the media. He may have had his reasons for doing so, but he has deliberately created an impression about himself to try and strengthen his leadership that has since been proven to be untrue. Again, a damning indictment of someone who has claimed to stand apart from the deception and spin of the two major parties.

Of course, we now see that his party is in total meltdown behind him. Whether the grassroots members like it or not, it is the MPs who are, by and large, the public representation of their party. And if nearly half of them have no confidence in the leadership of Mr Kennedy, and indeed will refuse to serve in a frontbench team, then the party is in freefall. Kennedy, quite simply, has to resign. If he fails to, then he will sacrifice his entire party for his single-minded, and wrong, belief in the fact he can continue to lead.

The party may not be salvageable anyway. I think that we are probably in a process of a realignment of British politics anyway, with the rumps of Labour and the Tories forming their own coalitions around them, with one or two parties also emerging in the centre ground. The Liberal Democrats are a bizarre alliance between "classic" liberals and social democrats, and it is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Inaction and trading off apathy is not a long-term strategy for success.

Kennedy is now fatally damaged goods. The only way he can survive is in a way that is not worth surviving - where he leads a party devoid of authority and the backing of his MPs. That might happen, if he refuses steadfastly to resign, because the rules of the leadership race seem designed to kill anyone who is first to stick their head above the parapet. But it won't be good for the Liberal Democrats, and it won't be good for the country, either. With Dave Cameron seemingly determined to try and win the keys to Downing Street by policies that amount to sweet slush, and agreeing with Blair, then there is a void of serious opposition. The Liberal Democrats can pick up that mantle if they are willing to run with public service reform. Charles Kennedy, however, is not the man to do it.