Opinion: Ming must go

Menzies CampbellThere is a well known political maxim (or at least there ought to be) which states that, “the party faithful are the last people who should be consulted upon their choice of leader” – the point being that it is to crucial swing voters that the leader must appeal, not to committed party members. Of course the membership may attempt this calculation themselves, but the result often comes out a little skewed. So it was that the Conservatives made a whole series of amusing blunders and misjudgements regarding the leadership, largely on account of an internal obsession over Europe, before finally settling on the undeniable charms of the boy Cameron.

And so it was that Sir Menzies Campbell was duly elected last year, polling an initial 45% of the vote on a turnout of 72% (a worryingly low figure incidentally which suggests to me that at least a quarter of the membership might be dead). What followed has been a frankly embarrassing succession of glib and hollow performances, wholly lacking in flair, imagination, or lightness of touch. The unvarying sombre and humourless intonation, perfectly suited no doubt to his former role of commenting upon unfolding catastrophe in the Middle East, now simply fails to inspire. In short, he has become an electoral liability.

Without doubt, the biggest single disappointment has been at Prime Minister’s Questions. Ever since he rose in January 2006 to enquire why one in five schools are without a permanent head teacher, Sir Ming’s performances have been irredeemably lame. He should silence the house when he rises to speak; instead the members typically groan and snigger, and not without reason. While Cameron hits the target on a regular basis, Ming routinely causes the Prime Minister no difficulty whatsoever. Even John Prescott is a more effective performer in his own inimitable way.

Take last week’s effort, on the day before the elections. “The President made the decisions, the Prime Minister argued the case, the Chancellor signed the cheques, and the Tories voted it through.” Was that supposed to be the killer blow intended to deliver the goods last Thursday? Leaving to one side the questionable relevance of Iraq to a nation with rubbish collection uppermost on its mind, the delivery was weak and unconvincing, and it wasn’t even framed as a question – just a regurgitated line from the Harrogate conference speech. Blair swatted him away easily as he does every time.

Then of course there is the vexed question of his age. Sir Ming is older today than Margaret Thatcher was at the time when she left office. He could be 74 by the end of the next parliament, taking us into Ronald Reagan territory. Perhaps you consider these comparisons to be somewhat irrelevant, seeing as Ming stands absolutely no chance of ever becoming Prime Minister. Well fine, but that’s exactly what the electorate will conclude too. In fact it’s not unlike having an alcoholic for party leader; in either case the message is much the same: vote for us, we’re the joke party – Lib Dems cannot win here!

Yet what makes all of this so unbearably frustrating is that we are fortunate enough to possess within our ranks a real star – an impressive and fluid performer, a successful businessman and expert economist – I speak of the member for Eastleigh, Christopher Huhne. While Sir Ming has been gently crumbling before our eyes, Huhne has emerged as a punchy and authoritative voice on the environment. But it is his broader experience and economic competence, not to mention a mastery of the broadcast and print media, which could see him seriously outmanoeuvre the opposition, given half a chance.

For a taste of what we are all missing, take a look at this interview for 18 Doughty Street. Huhne talks effortlessly for a whole hour on politics, history, and economics. It’s a relaxed and assured performance, a real pleasure to listen to, genuinely informative and humorous. I simply cannot imagine Sir Ming communicating with such an easy virtuosity. But more to the point, I can’t imagine David Cameron talking like that either. Sure, Cameron is great in front of the camera, that is until we come to detailed questions of policy – then it’s all furrowed brows and carefully scripted responses.

But now Cameron is set on a clear course for number ten, while the Liberal Democrat dream is fading away. Stars, hide your fires; let not light see my black and deep desires!

Laurence Boyce is a Lib Dem voter, not a member or activist . . . yet.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • “Sir Ming’s performances have been irredeemably lame”

    Not to put too fine a point on it, that’s rubbish, and trotting out a line without justification. Ming had trouble early on, but “irredeemably lame” since isn’t the case at all, and in newspaper write-ups of PMQs Ming regularly gets positive comments. Cameron has had rings run round him by Blair on many occasions, while Blair has been tripped up by Campbell more than once.

    I wouldn’t compare Ming to Reagan for a moment, but it’s an odd comparison for you to make since Reagan not only won two presidential elections but was also one of the US’s most popular presidents.

    It is hard to pin blame for local elections results on the leader (and even less so on the Scottish and Welsh results, as they have their own leaders). The best sign is the national vote share, and that fell my 1% only, and was well above recent polls. And I don’t believe that any other leader would have done better.

  • It's a two-horse race 11th May '07 - 12:47pm

    NO!!! You *must* keep him. P-l-e-a-s-e!

  • But presumably you didn’t support him when he was elected? What’s actually changed?

    Oddly enough, I don’t have dates of particularly good performances to hand, but try January 24th, about 10 minutes in.

  • It seems odd to publish a random non-member’s views on this site, on this issue.

    If my grandmother (who votes Lib Dem) wrote something, would we publish it here?

  • Or Mr F would remove the post and call her a troll!

  • I agree with Richard.

    The view that Ming isn’t good at PMQs was current before the summer recess last year. Since then it has gone. Specifically he has mastered the rejoinder (as on 24 Jan).

    Laurence seems to question the leadership election result. Turnout was 72% – 10% higher than in 1999. Ming won 44.7% on the first round (Charles Kennedy 44.6% in 2006).

    Both Ming and Kennedy polled more first preference votes than their nearest challenger obtained after transfers.

  • As Laurence was not a member, he didn’t get a vote on who leads us. Nor will he get a vote if Ming leaves, because he’s not a member.

    Very little of what he has said has any evidence base – its just an ill-informed opinion and Laurence is entitled to it.

    But why do we let stuff like this lead the Liberal Democrat Voice website! It just gives grist to our enemies.

    After Rob’s previous opinion piece it seems like LDV is consciously allowing itslef to be hijacked for a anti-Ming, pro Huhne campaign.

    Get a grip guys, this does no good whatsoever

  • Why isn’t it 99%?

    This is the Lib Dems, not North Korea.

  • Why not join the party as a member and fight from the inside as a democrat with voting rights to pick our leader, pick candidates and all the rest? Your £9 on Lib Dems online is wasted. £25 as a member is not.

  • Welcome Laurence!!!

  • £9 does give you full membership rights 11th May '07 - 3:56pm

    It does, honest.

  • i did sorry laurence

  • It's a one-horse race 11th May '07 - 5:13pm

    Go and join the Tories, Laurence, where you clearly belong. You are an idiot. Are you actually claiming that 28% of Lib Dem members are dead or was that just a moronic throwaway line? And if you think that the Commons should automatically hush in awed respect as soon as a leader stands you obviously never saw Steel, Ashdown or Kennedy doing it – it is extremely difficult for a third party leader to get the same sort of role as is given to the official opposition leader.

    So you wish Huhne had won last year. So what.

  • Bridget Fox 11th May '07 - 6:03pm

    All Lib Dem leaders struggle with the fact that they have no despatch box, no dedicated mic, and 2 larger groups of MPs uniting to undermine them. Both Paddy & Charles attracted similar criticism in their first years as leader.

  • Bridget Fox 11th May '07 - 6:08pm

    PS Laurence – welcome to membership! Where do you live? We have an Islington action day tomorrow & you would be most welcome….

  • Paul Griffiths 11th May '07 - 7:45pm

    This navel-gazing is all very jolly, but meanwhile back in the real world Ming is not going to jump and neither the MPs nor the membership are going to push. So let’s have some strategies please for making the most of our leader’s undoubted strengths and minimising the significance of his apparent weaknessness.

  • Letterman et al, we are putting a motion on a vote of “No Confidance” in Ming as leader at our next Local Exec meeting. If anyone wants to make this a bigger group let me know.
    By the way all those who slag us off for wanting to ditch Ming how bloody undomcratic of you. If he is doinf such a good job why the panic. Leave us to it and we will fail…I fear however that deep down you know he is a looser and “black balling” us is your only option!

  • The fact of the matter is, that whilst Ming is by no means a terrible leader, he isn’t a great one either.

    We’ve gone from having one of the best respected leaders in modern political history, backed by probably the sharpest foreign affairs spokesman of the second half of the twentieth century and beyond, to a middling leader and a humungous gap shadowing the FCO. Ming has clearly been a retrograde step, but it’s a matter of relativity.

    We are a dynamic party, with some fantastic parliamentarians. There are a number of people who are more than likely capable of presenting a more approachable and media friendly face than Sir Menzies, most notably Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne. We have to realise that we are vulnerable to squeeze from the Tories and nationalists, and we have to fight them on their own territory and that means in the media. We aren’t appearing in the press as much as we did with Charlie and it’s hurting us.

    The problem is that if we do not do something now, we are ever closer to a general election and could be saddled with a leadership contest six months before, which would likely be a disaster. There’s more than muttering doing the rounds now, and we don’t want a repeat of the “Kennedy situation”. Therefore, perhaps a move back to the Foreign brief for Ming, backed with a worthy succession? I am sick of being accosted by local members asking when we’re having another leadership election.

    Ming isn’t too old, he’s just the wrong man.

  • Yellow Sunset 11th May '07 - 11:25pm

    Indeed, welcome Laurence, although I disagree with you about Ming (I think!) I’m pleased we have you on board. It’s always a good thing to have richer debate!

  • We lost 246 councillors in England last week, went backwards in Scotland and made no progress in Wales.

    We hardly moved in the 2006 elections and still came behind Labour in the vote.

    We are going backwards with Ming.

    With Labour so unpopular we should have been making big gains and we did under Charles when we stood as an alternative to both Labour and the Tories.

    Cameron is outflanking us and Ming’s less than hidden overtures to Brown are damaging us.

    He has taken us up an cul-de-sac where people no longer see us as distinctive. Neither does Ming exude the confidence and energy a party requires from a leader.

    After two failed national elections it’s time for him to move aside.

  • As I said elsewhere we have good policies but a leader lacking charisma. The Tories hve no polices but a leader with charisma.

    Sadly in modern Britain it seems that you can do without policies but not charisma.

    Quickly on the local elections. In Tewkesbury we had a really good result winning six seats to go to seventeen. Pre 2003 we had I think four. Frankly the improvement is down to organisation and campaigning. The old adage of where we work we win has never been more apposite.

  • Jonathan Maltz 15th May '07 - 3:58am

    Like it or not (and I don’t) in this media-driven age charisma matters. For that reason alone, we MUST look at options to Ming. IMHO, Huehne or Clegg, if they could be persuaded to push, might just get there. Nevertheless, we will likely hold the balance of power whoever is leader of the three names mentioned here. Difference could be ending up with around 40 seats or 75-85 I suspect.

  • 36 and until late last year we had only 9.

    The power of a leader can easily be overstated. Cameron has a fantastic press – and the Tories are up about 6% in the polls since the general election. But they always were going to be up by some amount.

  • “After two failed national elections it’s time for him to move aside.”

    These were not national elections, as much as you would like to think so to advance your cause.

    Ming is an intellegent, smart, considered, honest gentleman. Not a chamelon, not a spinner, not a slogan-hungry bandwagon jumper.

    His QT performance was measured and reasonable. I cannot understand why so many LibDems appear hungry for another leadership contest after the howling mess up of the last one.

  • Menzies Campbell should stay – as leader of the party. I blame, in part, Liberal Democrats Councillor’s prospective and actual candidates, for not fighting effectively for seats in local councils, which are outside their political comfort zones. Only fighting in areas, which there is a perceived expectation of success, of Liberal Democrat leadership, of local councils, is a limited strategy.

    There is a need for proper understanding and, management by the Local Liberal Democrats Party. In relation, to promoting actual and prospective councillors, once that has been done, and then they can start focusing their efforts where they are needed, for the whole of the community and the country.

    Clearly, if the Liberal Democrats wish to make significant, head way at a local and national level, there must be high calibre candidates’ who are continually active, throughout the whole year, within the local community, dealing with local issues.

    Local Liberal Democrats prospective and actual councillors must adopt a robust and concise approach. Focused on local initiatives, and concerns, by using best practice, underpinned by sound policies, simply, attacking the leadership is far too easy, and certainty does address the real issues.

  • Hywel Morgan 18th May '07 - 7:01pm

    “Most members know that either Chris or Nick would do a better job – more passion, better communication, closer to more families”

    People keep saying this. It wasn’t borne out by the performance at hustings. Ming was clearly the best performer at the one I went to (no shortage of passion there)

    Chris on the other hand was easily the poorest – I know at least one person who was intending to vote for him and ultimately didn’t as a result.

    It might have just been an off night but the hustings I was at was easily won by Ming.

  • 43. I went to 4 hustings(yes that sad) and it was split 2-3 for Simon & Chris…you must have gone to the only one Ming was any good at!

  • that should have been 2-2!!

  • Huhne Supporter 20th May '07 - 2:32am

    This was all on the cards.

    Ming just hasn’t got that X factor and the growing drip-drip of a backroom deal with Brown is damaging to electoral credibility as a party with an alternative to offer and one that is open and up-front.

    Ming should scotch these rumours otherwise the groeing the perception will be that it is about his personal ambitions.

  • Paul Griffiths 20th May '07 - 3:29pm

    Letterman: “I’m increasingly getting the idea that Ming fancies himself as a foreign secretary in a Lib-Lab coalition …”

    WTF!? Really, Letterman, that’s just plain stupid. For a start, how does one aim for a coalition “without a care for Lib Dem losses”?

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