Lib Dems must decide on their direction

Come back Charlie, all is forgiven. A poll last week showed that 40 per cent of Liberal Democrats would like Kennedy back as their leader.

What they really need however is any sort of leadership, as their search for a new boss lurches from one calamity to another.

The Lib Dems have never been blessed with the best PR strategists, partly because their leaders have sought to 'handle' the media themselves. For example, it was always possible for journalists to ring Kennedy directly, which was great for the hacks but must have been a huge headache for his press handlers.

Yet the party has always been very good at campaigning, which has disguised this lack of any coherent media strategy.

Indeed, few are better at local campaigning than Simon Hughes, but his naivety over his private life becoming public was truly astonishing. While only a few political journalists really knew the extent of Kennedy's drinking, most of them believed Hughes to be gay. If Hughes didn't want this to be publicly known, he shouldn't have run for the leadership - and I wouldn't have wasted the tenner I put on him to defeat Sir Menzies Campbell.

More seriously though, the problem is that the Lib Dems have recently lacked a chairman or a deputy leader to steady the ship, because both of them have been too busy running for the top job.

A serious political party wouldn't allow this to happen. Labour's chairperson, for instance, is chosen by the leader, so will never be likely to challenge for the throne. Even the Tories have a similar arrangement.

So where do the Lib Dems go from here? It looks like they will elect Ming after all and, given the disaster of their leadership campaign so far, this may not be such a bad thing. But Campbell will need a good PR team around him and it would be an excellent opportunity for the party to beef up its communication department and bring in some fresh faces.

The party is crying out for a sense of direction. Ming would do well to read the latest poll on where the Lib Dems are seen to stand on the all-important left/right spectrum. The Lib Dems are seen as the most left-wing of the main parties, but are still closer to the centre, where most people see themselves, than the Tories.

To make any advances the Lib Dems must fight for that centre ground and at least win back the voters who have deserted them since their kamikaze decision to get rid of Kennedy.

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