OPINION: Lib Dems are lacking in the leader stakes

When my old drinking partner Charlie Kennedy was dumped for Ming Campbell, the loudest cheers came from Gordon Brown’s office. The next Prime Minister would look positively fresh-faced compared with the Lib Dem leader.

Whelan: ‘A massive 67 per cent of Lib Dem supporters think Ming should be replaced with a younger leader'
Whelan: ‘A massive 67 per cent of Lib Dem supporters think Ming should be replaced with a younger leader'

The Lib Dems are now paying the price for that crass decision. I hate to say ‘I told you so,’ but regular readers will know I did. To dump a young leader popular with a public who didn’t give a monkey’s about his drinking habits was bonkers. Even worse, the young Turks who stabbed Kennedy in the back didn’t have the bottle to stand themselves. Like the Catholic bishops electing an old Pope, they elected an old leader to give themselves a chance of getting the top job.

It isn’t, of course, just Ming Campbell’s age that’s the problem. He could equally be a fresh-faced thirty-something and still be unable to lead his party in the new Brown era. The trouble is that Ming has no idea which way to turn. Left or Right? That’s why he’s now languishing in the polls at 15 per cent.

One thing that is certain: there is no way the Lib Dems can win by calling for higher taxes, yet that’s exactly what they seem to be doing. On the one hand they want more green taxes than the Tories, and on the other want to adopt Old Labour policies such as taxing people more if they earn over £70,000.

On the green front they should note the media reaction to Dave Cameron’s latest policy review.

The Guardian and Independent may have loved it, but elsewhere the Tories got a good kicking. It could have been even worse if they weren’t pouring praise on Gordon Brown for inviting Maggie to tea.

For years the Lib Dems have got away with being right-wing in Woking and left-wing in Newcastle. With both the major parties slugging it out in the centre, this policy simply won’t work today. They need a new, radical message from their traditional centre ground. I’m sorry, Ming, but they need a new leader, too. A massive 67 per cent of Lib Dem supporters think Ming should be replaced with a younger, more charismatic leader. The people have spoken.

The conference week is the only time outside an election that the Lib Dems are in the media
spotlight, and they must use this time to promote sensible party policies. If the only message the leader can deliver on the eve of your conference is that he intends to stay and fight the next election, then it’s time to go.

Given that most leadership contenders hate each other, the party could do worse than apologise to Charlie, buy him a large malt whisky and invite him back as leader.
charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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