Opinion: will the election results spell the end for Menzies Campbell’s leadership? The answer is in your hands as much as his.

Menzies CampbellSteady on before you leap in to the comments and cut my head off straight away – it’s a question plenty of people will ask, and it needs an answer. This is my personal attempt.

First, let’s look at where we are at the end of Friday. According to BBC statistics we’re down two hundred and fourty two councillors, and four councils, in England (net). Again net, we’re down one MSP in Scotland, and we’ve treaded water in Wales.

In England we gained control of Rochdale, Hull, Caradon, Eastbourne, Hinckley & Bosworth and Northampton councils. We lost Torbay, Restormel, Uttlesford, South Norfolk, Bournemouth, Windsor & Maidenhead, York, St Albans. There are further, more complex, results – for example in Bath the Liberal Democrats are no longer the largest party in that perpetually NOC council, and so the choice for the Bath Liberal Democrats now is between being the Tories’ junior partner, or going in to opposition.

In Scotland it seems highly likely we will be restored to our position in the Scottish Executive, though this time possibly with the Green party in the mix also. In Wales, despite no net gains or losses the change in electoral mathematics makes it possible if not probable that we will return to coalition government there.

Despite all the good news covered on Lib Dem Voice last night, it was not a good night for the Liberal Democrats. Four years ago, with the Iraq invasion fresh in the minds of the electorate, we gained one hundred and ninety-three councillors (net) in England. Tonight’s position is a serious reversal of fortune.

So, in the face of a massive Tory squeeze the media will ask – was it Ming’s fault? Should Ming go?

To attempt to pin local government results on the party leader is sometimes something of a leap. Let’s be clear – some of the losses will be the result of insular council groups and poor campaigning. It’s just a fact – some people get elected and feel a sadly fictional invincibility shield descend on them. Torbay in particular springs to mind as an example of a council that descended in to messy and public infighting and navel gazing. Some of the responsibility for last night’s result in England and Scotland in local government will fall on the shoulders of some of the candidates who lost.

In Scotland, it’s possible that because of the system put in place to deliver (our manifesto pledge) Proportional Representation in local elections, some Lib Dem councillors could have missed out due to the spoiled ballots problem – but the picture in Scotland in local government is very mixed for the Lib Dems, and will take further analysis.

There is of course, the crucial question of momentum. The ‘big mo’. In the Dunfermline West Scottish Parliamentary seat, where the ‘mo’ was with us thanks to the Wilie Rennie by-election, we snatched the seat.

In England, and to a lesser extent Wales, the momentum is with the Conservatives, and crucially – with David Cameron. Above all else, we discovered today that middle England is beginning to fall in love David Cameron, and it seems highly possible that at this point he’s doing the necessary things to walk up Downing Street to number 10 at the next election. Arguing that they should have achieved a couple of percentage points more than they did is folly when they’re ten points ahead of Labour in the polls, and nearly a thousand councillors up tonight.

Conversely, tongiht indicates that middle England has not warmed to our leader. After his first full year as leader, he failed his first major electoral test (bearing in mind the caveats above). This firt electoral test seems to indicate that Ming Campbell is an electoral liability – not an asset. Tonight, the prospect of how the public will respond to our leader in a General Election is not a happy one. It seems likely that the party will allow Ming Campbell to stay in place to try a second electoral test next year – he won himself some significant political capital at the most recent party conference. Yesterday and today, he spent that capital. If he fails his next major electoral test, beyond doubt he will have to go.

The challenge for Ming himself tonight is to take a good hard look in the mirror, and decide whether he should jump before his party considers pushing him.

He has to ask himself if, when the lights are on him in a General Election, the public will respond warmly to him and deliver the Liberal Democrats a boost in seats – or whether Cameron’s Tories will deliver us, and him, a brutal squeeze. I suspect that after the last fourty-eight hours, he knows the answer to that question.

Assuming he stays on until next year, it’s up to all of our elected councillors (and our GLA candidates) to shore up his position and that of the party. Next year must be a good year. So if you’re a councillor up for election next year, and you’re wearing that invincibility cloak – it’s time to change your ways. The party’s prospects in Westmnster could be in your hands. You have a year to ensure that your electors in your area vote on local issues in 2008, and they do so to reward for your excellent track record. On Monday, you have to get to work just as hard as Ming and his team do – the party is counting on you.

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83 Comments

  • In terms of Scotland,its plainly absurd that the party that came 4th with around 10% of the seats gets to decide whether the party that won the election with the most seats and popular vote gets to form the government.

    Hopefully we will never get PR at Westminster.

  • Bristol’s 2 losses can be classed as accidents (including the loss of the Executive Member who has turned round Social Services), but the bigger question is why there were not some gains (including why they didn’t gain Horfield last year). The Council has, on important topics (particularly highways, planning and transport), become exceedingly insular and contents itself with doing a just little bit better (and not bringing the staff into line on factual matters, such as the details of policies and possibilities). And its PR just gets up our noses.

  • In my experience strong local campaigning will always outweigh the national trend. That’s why local election results are such a mixed bag.

    For example us doing so well in Eastbourne but not so well in other parts of the south. The Tories making big gains in a small number of councils but generally just ones or twos.

    A lot of this IS the responsibility of local campaigners, candidates and councillors.

    Far too many are still running the same campaign they ran to win in 1995 and haven’t moved forward. A lot of literature is dismal, frankly.

    Increasing numbers of Tories ARE upping their game and we have to do so too.

    In the places we do it properly, take Eastleigh and Vale of White Horse as examples, we can keep winning.

    And the results in Winchester show that it can be turned round, even in somewhat difficult cirumstances.

  • Leo: what did the Westminster party not do that it should have? Given the variety of results, I’m inclined to blame local campaigning as much if not more than what was going on at the centre.

  • Cheltenham Robin 5th May '07 - 10:27am

    We are told from the top that it is substance not spin that is required.

    However we all know that there is no substance to Cameron although it appears that he can charm the pants off the electorate.

    The other thing that Cameron does well is inspire his own troops, something that is lacking in our party.

  • “…Just 6% of people questioned in a poll commissioned by Newsnight, believe the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, would make the best Prime Minister – compared to 28% who thought Gordon Brown would be best and 29% whose preference was for David Cameron…”

    Nuff said…

  • Hywel Morgan 5th May '07 - 11:09am

    “but the picture in Scotland in local government is very mixed for the Lib Dems, and will take further analysis.”

    I think analysis after a switch to STV could produce any result you like. We seem to have got 140-160 councillors (depending on how accurate the BBC figures are) which is down slightly on the 175 we had in 1999 but I think the STV projections were for a slight drop.

    We don’t seem to have lost many seats in some of our stronger areas though (Fife -1, Aberdeenshire -4) what might not have happened is that we picked up seats in areas where we didn’t have councillors before which we might have expected to do with PR being introduced.

    The effect is that nearly every Liberal Democrat councillor might be part of an administration which will have significant support and resource issues for councillor support in Scotland.

  • Local elections, at the moment at least, are won and lost on local issues. City-wide, or even ward-wide, or even street-wide. In Bristol over my 2 months of canvassing, the three national leaders got a single mention between them – one guy still livid at Blair about the war. Ming’s not an asset, but he’s not a liability either, it’s not a binary condition. He simply is… is. We have to do better at a local level. Whether we’d feel better about doing more with new leadership is another matter altogether, though – and maybe we would.

  • We are delighted that he is your Leader.The Conservatives will continue to make inroads in all Liberal areas in this situation.
    The Tories fear Clegg,Laws or Huhne, so lomg live the status Quo.

  • Tory lady, you didn’t make inroads in all Liberal areas – in fact you suffered a number of local reverses, so don’t be too smug yet.

  • It seems to me that having an incumbent MP worked equally well for the Tories as it did for the Lib Dems. In Yorkshire we went significantly backwards against the Tories in Haltemprice & Howden, largely because local Tories were able to use both the resources of the MP and the canvass data from the GE campaign. Same thing in the marginal seat of Yorkshire East. Yet as we have seen in Shefield Hallam and Harrogate where there are sitting Lib Dem MPs it was the Lib Dems who made the advances. It seems in Yorkshire at least it was very much about who made the best of the resources at their disposal.

  • Kepp him! No a universal win but 900 gains can not be ignored. The LD offensive is over. Next year you better look at holding what you have because we are coming for you!

  • From political betting

    ‘I’ve just checked the BBC website. With 310 councils counted, the tories have more councillors that ALL the other parties plus independents/RA added together:

    ie Conservatives: 5215

    Everyone Else: 5100

    (Libdem 2159, Labour 1857, other 1084)

    Since one of the two remaining councils is Warwick where there were boundary changes so all seats were up for election and last time had 14 labour 9 libdems and 6 others I reckon the tories have a chance of 900 gains’

    You really must keep him!

  • Re Anthony F. Not Smug Just very happy. The Gay Tories,under Cameron,know how to win the political game unlike the Gay Liberals.
    Many Tories are enjoying the jokes about the Daddy Returns in “Mummified Ming”. I mean lets face it, Ming is not going to turn you on about anything, but will definitely turn you off.
    Keep up the good work–

  • You are smug aren’t you, Tory Lady/Blue Dawn (perhaps one and the same given writing style)?! Tories not so smug in Eastleigh, Solihull, Salisbury or Taunton Deane though, eh?
    Or perhaps not in Liverpool or Manchester.
    Yes we lost seats to the Tories, but last time we fought these particular seats they were led by the awful IDS and we’d only had 6 years of Blair Government. Our share of the vote (26%) is still one of the highest shares of the vote we’ve ever had.

  • meiriongwril 5th May '07 - 2:25pm

    At least we now know (thanks to Tory Lady) that the Tories are all gay…

  • Re Rob. Just to jog your memory its May and we Tories especially in CCHQ are all very happy and Gay. And for the record Anthony, I am not Blue Dawn, though he is very Happy and Gay also with yesterdays results.
    Ming must stay!!

  • Not smug – just on top with great leader and back in the game. No local election is all one way traffic – there are always local factors – they are local elections – look at Boston where the winner was a single issue protest party that swept away every LD and Lab and all but 7 Conservatives. But the trend is clear. And I have to tell you this but it will grow.

  • Tory Lady – How do you know – I am both by the way! 5th floor or no 30?

  • It looks like the Ming effect is damageing the possibilities of a continued success in Cornwall- even if the Conservatives are split,Divided and in an utter administrative shambles. Julia Goldsworthy is now fast asleep and Matthew Taylor has retired already,and as for George,well hes on a Cornish siesta,— well I suppose its not surprising with death warmed up mummified Ming as our leader.
    My view is Asses need kicking.

  • Ref Blue Dawn. The Liberals are not challenging us enough Blue Dawn. Maybe this is why they did not do so well and why we are both very Happy.
    Maybe there is not enough firmness coming from Ming?

  • Sadly, for Ming being solid, reliable, lawyerly is not enough to safe his leadership. The LibDems do not need a safety first policy and after the Kennedy debacle the party wrongly decided to adopt that policy.

    Inspired, creative leadership is required now and fast. I agree that many of the other names (Clegg, Laws etc)mentioned have a better chance of providing that leadership. Sadly, the LibDems need to be ruthless and ditch Ming.

  • Just had the phone call from a fellow Liberal Democrat who has just reminded me that the Cornish MPs voted in Ming. Perhaps thats why things are badly on the slide because they are embarassed.However it was said to me the Cornish MPs are happy with a nice sleep under his leadership.

  • Can we just ignore these Tories and have a sensible discussion? I am not interested in their views on our leadership.

  • Touchy,Touchy Tony. Remember the Electorate has just expressed its views about all parties in the Elections yesterday and your Party came off worst.
    May I also say that there is not much dividing “c”onservatives,Camerons Liberal Conservatives,and you Liberal Democrats.
    Is David Laws joining the Tories-if not he would make a splendid Tory Magnet for the Liberal Voters if he became your Leader,but you must appreciate we do not want that and would be much happier if he joined the Conservatives.

  • Tories are just plain boring. Can’t we remove them from this site?

  • Burying your head in the sand Syd, is not the way to deal with the conservatives- though Ming should be your first port of call.

  • Syd and Tony, if you are not interested why arse yourself with responding.
    We must get rid of Ming and find someone who can challenge Cameron- thats why it is interesting to listen to Tories.

  • I’m from Bournemouth. Local factors were at play with our result – not helped by the Tories blatantly lying and misrepresenting our record. We needed to fight back a lot harder than we did – and we needed to talk to people much more. When people knew the facts they were won round 9 times out of 10.

    As for Ming – he didn’t exactly help our cause. Cameron certainly helped boost the Conservatives and sway floating voters.

    The fact is, if we are going to do well at the next election we need a different leader. Ming is amazing and has great authority in foreign affairs. He should play to his strengths and move aside!

  • Oh, so the best people to listen to for advice about the leadership of our party are Tories? I think not.

  • Do not let the Tories get at you, get at Ming and ask him to go and get Huhne in ASAP.

  • Paul Griffiths 5th May '07 - 6:01pm

    Could I ask those Lib Dems who think Ming should go to either put up or shut up? There’s a constitutional method for calling a leadership election so if you think you have a following then get on with it. I suspect, however,that you’ll find you are in a very small minority.

  • I am being told to shut up by Tories, but I can not help but say that Ming is the best leader the Tories do not have as he leads us to success.

  • Paul we are putting up our views and Ming has got to go, and go now. We are not shutting up so naff off.

  • The Conservatives are certainly reclaiming ground here in Surrey Heath – depiste a strong local Lib Dem campaign.

    The trick the Tories played was not to actually mention the Lib Dems at all.

    I believe that this is one of the ‘Pickles’ rules – failure to mention the opposition lulls their voters into a false sense of security.

    Conversely, our campaign was on the local Tories awful record. Despite pointing out their failings, people just wanted to give Gordon Brown a punch on the nose.

    Our vote held up, and in most cases increased – but no where near enough to compensate for the awaken of the previously quiet Conservative leaning voters who have stayed at home for the past 8 years. These all piled out to cast their vote, inspired no doubt by their leader. We lost 6 seats.

    Whether the Lib Dems can cope with another leadership election at the moment is a moot point.

    Local residents do not appear to be clammering for Ming to leave, but they are also not overly enthusiastic.

    We need to see a lot more energy and action from our leader now, we need to give our supporters reasons to be happy to vote for us.

  • The Minger should stay! he is a brilliant leader for the LibbyDems! We all know you lot are a bunch of wierdos, cranks and halfwits so having a tragic ‘J.R. Hartley’ figure is perfect for your Party! After all, we’ve had Thorpe and the dog murder, Pantsdown, the Alkie as your leaders. You sure can pick ’em! If the Minger goes, i want Oaten for leader. he’ll go down well (in more ways than one)!!

  • Paul Griffiths 5th May '07 - 6:53pm

    This is off topic, but has anyone else remarked upon the extraordinary tendency for infantilism among Conservatives? The comments from them here are just the latest examples. Their childish name-calling, their gleeful delight in alliteration, their fascination with bodily functions – the list goes on. It’s hard to shake the impression that they have a mental age of six.

  • It's a two-horse race 5th May '07 - 7:04pm

    A dreadful set of results for your party -I’m amazed that you’re trying to put a positive spin on them. Lib Dems always do *better* at local electiosn than at gernerals. Come the election, it’ll be a two-horse race between Cameron’s liberal Conservatives and Brown’s Labour Party. The Lib will be no-where. Switch to us and help elect a decent liberal Conservative governmnet. Ming has already said that he will prop up Brown…

  • Paul Griffiths 5th May '07 - 7:18pm

    “…help elect a decent liberal Conservative government.”

    We’re good, two-horse, but we’re not miracle-workers.

  • Well if nothing else it got you commenting. i look on this site most days in my lunch hour and it has inane obscure carp from Mark pack and no one ever comments. Con home etc – even Lab home have comments. thought it was an empty room. Dont take it all so serious!

  • It's a two-horse race 5th May '07 - 8:03pm

    Wonder why Pack never comments on Lib embarassments?

  • Has it ever been known for a Liberal Democrat Blog to have 40+ postings. It must be a record.The comment that Ming should pump more action and energy into politics is a laugh too far for me.
    I have never seen so much energy from bloggers as today when the first squeaks are being made to eject him from his Throne.As a Tory please dont.

  • Paul Griffiths 5th May '07 - 8:10pm

    Laurence, surely your suggested slogan is implicit in the democratic process itself. Tactical voting is just that – a tactic, not a strategy. And my bar charts are balls-on accurate, FYI.

  • I think that the Liberal Democrats actually did all right.
    In some areas you were heavily criticised for giving yourselves as councillors too high allowances and the Iraq war which is a real winner for you really did not come into play at these locals but certainly will at the General Election.
    Congratulations for this interesting Blog today.

  • Congratulations for an interesting Blog Today on a highly important subject.

  • Have I been Banned from this interesting blog?

  • What like Lynne Featherstone and the £22 000 postage bill ibn 1 month. Lynne used to spend her own £ to promote herself. Now its us tax payers – Read the front page of Broadway Ham & high and a bit in the Hornsey Journal. Bet Dr Pacjk did not sanction that! Amazingly she is going to investigate the leak in the HOC that revealed the expenditure – so much for freedom of information

    Botox all round!

  • Has Tory Lady gone to bed.

  • Rob – thanks for this brave and commendable post! We mustn’t lose faith and panic after Thursday’s results… but nor should we bury our heads in the sand. Ming needs to think seriously about whether he’s helping or hindering the party. He has done some great things in shaping the party but he has to challenge himself as to whether he can genuinely deliver the goods in the forthcoming media mudsling. For too long we’ve been complacent that we’ll soldier on… Thu was a wakeup call that we need to take seriously

  • 2 horse – you mean stories like Lynne Featherstone spends £22 000 in a month on postage – as reported in the Broadway ham & High (a front page that Dr pack wont be pleased with) and the Hornsey Journal. Sge even adds the LD whips will be demanding that the sepeaker investigate the leaked email taht told us – the tax payer – about what she was up to! So much for the FOI act and the LDs

  • Angus J Huck 5th May '07 - 11:58pm

    If we take a look at the results in detail, two things emerge:-

    (1) Where we have MPs, and in top target seats, our vote generally held up well and in some cases advanced. A professional campaign with a command line leading to Chris Rennard, made all the difference.

    (2) Where the campaign was run by local parties left to their own devices and with few resources, we tended to do badly. They were unable to match a well-oiled, well funded Tory onslaught.

    There is little evidence from Thursday that more than one or two of our MPs is under any really serious threat from Cameron-Gove’s Tories. And gains from the Conservatives in Eastbourne, Guildford, Chelmsford, Dorset North and Dorset West are still within the realms of possibility if not probability.

    That’s a very brief analysis.

    So, let me pose the question: is there a causal link between Thursday’s mixed performance and Ming’s leadership? I see no reason to suppose that there is.

    Leaders are deposed where it is really necessary so to do – not as a panic response to poor election results.

    The Tories dumped Duncan Smith because he was useless – an intellectual lightweight lacking the requisite attributes of a prime minister in waiting. The complaint against Ming is not that he is useless, it is his perceived want of appeal to the electorate. Few doubt he would make a good prime minister. What they dislike about him is his style.

    Which begs the very disturbing question as to whether it is necessary to have a shallow showman (eg, Cameron) as leader in order to win an election. Are the days now gone when a reticent, introvert leader (say, Clement Attlee) could win?

    Does the media dominated culture of spin and celebrity dictate that style takes precedence over substance?

    Many successful leaders have made a virtue out of their perceived weaknesses – eg, Churchill and his speech impediment.

    Should we not be making a virtue out of Ming’s distaste for showmanship?

    Should we not be contrasting Ming, the dignified statesman, with the flashy, Old Etonian boulevardier, devoid of principle and substance, who regards ordinary people as scum?

    Oh, and let us deplore the appalling ageist comments we hear from the trolls. I bet they say similar things about blacks, Asians and women (under their breath, of course).

  • Elizabeth Patterson 6th May '07 - 9:11am

    44. Paul Griffiths. How much I agree with your comments on Tory posters. They seem to be a rather nasty lot, not concerned with proper debate. One must add to your list their syntax and improper use of lower case. It reminds me of why I have to be Libdem, I couldn’t be around with the other teams.
    On the original question, yes, I’m afraid wisdom alone is not enough; Ming does need to stand aside after this period of consolidation, and let Huhne/Laws/Clegg take us on.
    Beth

  • I’ll take no lessons from any LDem with regard to ‘nastiness’. After all, your party excells at that in campaigning. The Ldem ‘grandee’ Malcolm Bruce was asked about the LD’s ‘nasty’ campaign against Alex Salmond in Gordon. So , if the media cotton on to the fact that the Ldems are not ‘clean’ campaigners it won’t take long for the wider electorate to do so either. If you lot are seriously considering Hunhe for leader – great. As much personality as a cardboard box, as well as the ‘patronising’ aura so well identifiable with a LDem.

  • Angus J Huck 6th May '07 - 11:46am

    Simon – I guess you are talking about Brian Souter’s SNP, and his front man, Smart Alec? How many SNP policies are millionaires allowed to buy? Clearly, Souter has persuaded Alec to dump his party’s pro- gay rights stance. Could Nicholas Van Hoogstraten get him to do away with secure tenancies? For a suitcase full of fivers, obviously?

  • Clearly the SNP are not in hock to old plooky face Souter! I’m no SNP apologist but i think their commitment to ‘gay rights’ is solid. I don’t think it’s wise a LibbyDem bring Van Hoogstraten into a debate. Tavish Scott (principled LibbyDem- a bit of sarcasm there) is bad enough. How did Tavish buy so many houses?

  • I think the point Laurence was making is that we should be trying to communicate what we stand for much more clearly rather than over-relying on an appeal to the supporters of the party in third place to vote for us because we are not the party they least prefer. I have seen very few Focuses which communicate our ideology, even subliminally, so it’s hardly surprising when voters complain that they don’t know what we stand for.

  • Angus J Huck 6th May '07 - 7:34pm

    First of all, tactical voting.

    It has worked. When supporters of 3rd placed candidates become accustomed to voting for Lib Dem candidates over a 25 year period, very often they end up as Lib Dem supporters, not merely LibDem voters. Hence the evaporation of Labour support in Guildford and Tory support in Liverpool.

    In the 1983 General Election, tactical voting reduced the average Labour score in rural and outer suburban constituencies to the mid or low teens. As Labour recovered, so did support for its 3rd placed candidates, so much so by 1997 that in some cases stronger 3rd placed candidates leapfrogged Lib Dems to win outright (St Albans, Shrewsbury), or took enough votes to keep the Lib Dems out (Wells, Westbury).

    A little noticed feature of last Thursday’s election is the virtual extinction of Labour support in non-metropolitan areas. Look at Guildford, where Labour candidates scored derisory votes in wards which were once their strongholds. Or Mendip, where there is now not a single Labour councillor, even in their formerly “strong” areas of Frome and Shepton Mallet.

    Is this the ultimate triumph of tactical voting?

    Secondly, my point about the distinction between professional and less-than-professional campaigns.

    Take a look at Waverley. The rout which saw the Tories sweep the board in the Surrey South-West parliamentary constituency actually ended at the Guildford constituency border. In Cranleigh East (which is in Waverley Borough, but Guildford constituency), Lib Dems held their two seats and gained the third from the Tories. So the Waverley rout looks as though it might have had more to do with a failed campaign than a failing council.

    If David Cameron really is about to sweep into Downing Street, then his party does have to win – and win convincingly – in places like Guildford and Mendip – and Cheadle, Hazel Grove, Solihull, Wareham and Lyme Regis !!!

    Now to the question of Ming’s leadership.

    It is true that Ming has failed to make much of an impression on voters. And it is probably true that the party has failed to get across a coherent message, at least not sufficiently.

    But what reason have we to suppose that substituting Chris Huhne, Nick Clegg or David Laws for Ming would make any difference?

    That is the great imponderable.

    Changing leaders always runs the risk that (1) the new leader will be no better than the predecessor, and (2) the messy process will damage the party even further.

    If we look to the recent past, the Liberal Party did have an Old Etonian showman as its leader – Mr Jeremy Thorpe.

  • I thought Ming’s own comment, saying (in his own words) that he would “Go on and on and on” was singularly ill-judged, and demonstrates clearly why he is not up to the job. It was fair to do this in the early stages of his leadership, but it has frankly become obvious that he is not “cutting it” now, and he should be up to recognising that, and taking the appropriate action. Many people out there are very angry, and although Angus Huck’s words about the leadership not being to blame for everything in local campaigns are very sensible (andtrue!) he is not adding anything to our local results.

    By the way, where is the loony Angus Huck of former years, with his large type, and off the wall comments??

  • It's not good, but it's not that bad either 8th May '07 - 10:47am

    Letterman – both Kennedy & Ashdown were heavily criticised in their first few years – and neither of them managed 27% and 26% respectively in their first two local election results (27% is a record). True, there were disappointments, especially in Scotland and Wales – but we were always going to be susceptible to a Tory resurgence, in 2003 when these seats were last fought they had IDS and were still behind in the polls. The LDs relationship with the media is always fraught, and it’s hard for us to set the agenda no matter how hard we try. After the 2001 general election we were on about 13% in the opinion polls – and that was with Charles at the head, and 3 years after his election as leader. Let’s learn as a party from this, but lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  • Ming Campbell was the best candidate at the time we elected our Party Leader. Chris Huhne is very talented, is an excellent constituency M.P. and would be good as party leader but only gained such large support in the last leadership election due in part to the sexual pecadillos of Simon Hughes and Mark Oaten.
    Ming is a good leader, he just has the two problems. He is too stiff with a slightly wooden speaking manner and a tense body posture. This contributes to poor Prime Ministers questions when quality of question is suffocated by poor quality of presentation. It also contributes to occasional poor performance in interviews. Secondly he dresses badly. He should lose the ubiquitous pink, it brings up the fushed face of age and helps to make him look older. He should go for darker colours. See an image consultant and NEVER let his wife dress him. He should lose the tie and be seen dressed more informally as ‘Dave’ and ‘Tony’ so carefully contrive. Even ‘Gordon’ dresses down occasionly and he too has a major image problem sharing with Ming both a good intellect and an awkwardness in front of the camera and in public..
    Ming has the leadership and has used it well to reinvigorate the organisation and he has the drive and the intellect to go with it. We need to see that forensic mind but we need to see it better presented. That is the sad reality of television. That is the age in which we live. It cannot be ignored. It should not mean dumping someone because of his age but it does mean making sure that the person is presented in the best possible light. Not to do so would be a failing of the party not the individual. In the glare of the general election Cameron will be more exposed as a fluffy lightweight of no real conviction and Ming could come in to his own. However if Cameron has two stiff, uncomfortable and poorly presented Party Leaders to compete with then policy and opportunism notwithstanding he will win easily.
    Change the Party Leader? Yes. But not the person. Just his presentation.

  • Ming appears to be the liberal version of Micheal Foot
    Committed , heart in the right place , honest , fairly spin free …..

    But a vote looser ….. like it or not…. image and charisma are worth a lot of votes ..

    No mater how good the slick presentation , its still an old codger on the podium .

  • It's not good, but it's not that bad either 9th May '07 - 8:15am

    Er, Letterman – you claim first that you don’t really care about Ming’s popularity with the media/electorate (that you’re more concerned by his ability to inspire you) – but then go on to complain that we should have been aiming for more MPs etc, and that we’re constrained by the leader.

    His ability as leader in the context you’re talking about is surely his popularity with the electorate and his ability to communicate his/our message through the media – that’s the only way we’re going to get more elected representatives. Even you accept that he’s made some good structural changes to the party (and green tax switch/we can cut crime were to of the most coherent campaigns I’ve seen from us in a long time). My point was that our local election results under Ming are historically some of the best we’ve ever had, and that whilst there are issues that need resolving, I don’t think simply swapping our leader is enough.

  • Hywel Morgan 9th May '07 - 12:50pm

    “we are constrained by this berk of a leader”

    There are fair criticisms that can be levelled at Ming but to call him a berk is neither accurate nor fair.

    Ming chose to fight the then East Fife as a Liberal in the 70s (hardly optimistic times for Liberals!) and developed it into the seat he won.

    Bearing in mind his very good connections with the (Labour leaning) Scottish legal establishment it isn’t hard to imagine than someone less principled or less committed to the ideals of liberalism would have ended up taking the Labour route as an easier way to get power.

    “My point was that our local election results under Ming are historically some of the best we’ve ever had”

    The problem is the trend since Ming became leader is standstill or backwards which is not a good position to be in. In politics your either moving ahead or your moving backwards 🙂

  • I think Ming would admit that one of the crucial elements of his 1987 victory was a competent fresh campaigner who supported the campaign valiantly. His name was Paul Rainger. He was mentioned by name too (the only LibDem campaigner to be mentioned by name) in Dunfermline East. What a shame he is no longer with us.

  • I thought Peter Cook’s post was very constructive and sensible. We should fight the next election with Ming as the statesman, bookended by Vince and Chris Huhne, and supported by a phalanx of the younger talent in the Party. A coherent strategy on those lines would provide a contrast to the Cameron froth, and show that we could provide substance and dynamism. Looking to Ming for the dynamism is a mistake: it isn’t his strong point and it wasn’t why the Party elected him.

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