Opinion: Kennedy should not rush his comeback

Charlie Kennedy has a passion for the Highland game of shinty, and last weekend his local team, Fort William, lost in the cup final not so far away from where I live. Previously, he may have drowned his sorrows with a wee dram, but times have changed for the former Lib Dem leader.

Kennedy is making a comeback, and with Ming making a mighty mess of the leadership, the timing of his conference speech this Tuesday could not have been better. Even before he got up to speak, the mere mention of his name drew thunderous ­applause. How the Ming camp winced.

This week has been all about comparisons between the men. Would the younger Charlie have looked so stupid going on about the Arctic Monkeys? Would Kennedy have forgotten that the Lib Dems did not win the Bromley by-election?

But Kennedy has to plan his comeback very carefully. The priority is to completely recover from his illness. It should be remembered that the Highland MP never said he was an ­alcoholic, just that he ‘had a drink problem'.

A single report of him drinking could finish off a serious political comeback, but he's looking good and well these days.

At the same time he has to bide his time and ­remain super-loyal to Ming. He cannot afford to be held in any way responsible for the inevitable setback at the next election. Never mind the row over the 50p top-rate income tax, Mon­deo Man will not look kindly at a party that wants to tax his motor £800 a year. The Lib Dems should remember that the only time New Labour has seriously been challen­ged was in 2000, when the punters thought petrol tax was too high.

Kennedy must be called back to lead the Party by popular acclaim - and he will be if he reminds people what he stands for. He must continue to emphasise his opposition to the war and his passion for political reform.

There should be no bar to appearing on Have I Got News For You, as it was such stunts that made him appealing to younger voters. He has that ‘normal bloke' image and needs to broadcast it.

Above all, Kennedy should resist the temptation to rush back into the Lib Dem shadow cabinet, where he will be subject to the daily grind of politics. The rest outside will do him good and give him more time to concentrate on big speeches like his conference triumph.

At the Lib Dem conference in Brighton this week, we saw a future leader speaking before a doomed one. Funny that, because it's exactly what we will get at the Labour conference in Manchester next week. 
charlie.whelan@haynet.com

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