Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lib Dem succession race gets under way

This is a such a great idea I wish I'd thought of it first...but a great new blog has been launched dedicated to the battle to succeed Sir Menzies Campbell as Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Okay, so it's meant to be a bit of fun, but there's a serious point here in view of the dynamics behind Sir Ming's election.

The plain facts are that Ming Campbell owes his election to the time-honoured principle of "young cardinals elect old popes."

The young turks who backed Campbell's leadership bid - the Nick Cleggs, Ed Daveys, David Laws and Sarah Teathers of this world - were not doing so because he is their ideological soulmate, but because when he stands down after the next election it will give them an early crack at the leadership.

The authors of "Ming's Dynasty..." whoever they are, are therefore correct to surmise that the race is already under way.

Indeed, the ongoing Shadow Cabinet reshuffle is part and parcel of this process, with Clegg given the chance to put himself in the driving seat as Home Affairs spokesman with his most prominent rival, Chris Huhne, given a more junior role at Environment.

Also in the running is new Treasury spokesman Julia Goldsworthy, who is likely to prove a more durable female contender in the longer-run than Ms Rabbit-caught-in-headlights Teather.

Lets hope there's still a party left for them to lead once the Minger has finished with it.

March 9 Update: Here's some further justification of why this might conceivably be a valid subject for discussion. William Hill, as ever, supply the odds.

Hat tip: Guido Fawkes.

11 comments:

Joe Otten said...

Miaow. Any actual sign of this contest that has supposedly started already, or are you making it up?

The Grim Reaper said...

Thank you for drawing attention to the Ming's Dynasty blog. Hopefully word of mouth will continue to spread...

Peter Pigeon said...

The election is over, Paul.

Ming had 32 declared backers in the Parliamentary Party. Only one or two might have a personal interest in a leadership election in five or six years time. It will do nothing for Vince, for Jo Swinson of Julia Goldsworth ten years would do just as well. Sarah Teather is what 30? what does she care if the next leadership election is when she is thirty-six or thrity-nine?

The simple explanation is that these thirty two Lib Dems thought that Ming was the best guy for the job.

Jonathan Sheppard said...

So no jockeying for position then... hmmmm

Paul Linford said...

Peter - One of Chris Huhne's supporters was quoted as saying during the leadership campaign that electing Ming as leader would be like electing a chairman of an ongoing leadership campaign among the next generation. I happen to think that was a very accurate comment on what is likely to happen and as Jonathan suggests we are already seeing this with the jockeying for position in the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. If there is a recent historical parallel it is probably the John Smith leadership of the Labour Party. Smith was a good leader but all the real focus and interest was on Blair and Brown and which of the two of them would eventually emerge as the natural heir. For Blair and Brown, read Clegg and Huhne.

Joe Otten said...

Paul,

Yes, Chris's supporters made that prediction. But you are saying that it is actually happening. That there is jockeying for position. Where's the beef?

Paul Linford said...

Well, for instance, in the appointment of Clegg as Home Affairs spokesman. Huhne wanted it, and is believed to have asked for it at his meeting with Ming, suggesting Clegg went to Foreign Affairs instead. But Ming held firm and gave Huhne the more junior post of Environment spokesman, thus marking out Clegg rather than Huhne as his chosen successor. This was not only to reward Clegg for his loyalty in not standing, it was to try to ensure Clegg's future loyalty too. What many commentators have missed is that Clegg is now the main threat to Ming's leadership. A lot of people thought he should have stood this time round, and most of those people think that if he had stood he would have won. It will only take a few bad polls and a few poor by-election results for this talk to start up again.

Rob Knight said...

That's one way of looking at it. But the Home Affairs brief is generally a difficult one - yes there are easy points to score on civil liberties, but outside of Westminster these do little for your reputation. Up against bruisers like Clarke and Davis, Clegg will have a tough time appearing tough whilst keeping his liberal credentials.

Not saying he can't do it, but it's not an easy job. Of course, one could argue that he has chosen a difficult job for him precisely to avoid giving him an obvious platform to be leader-in-waiting, thus avoiding annoying people in the party... but we're now off into the realms of double and triple-bluffing. In the end I don't think there's much to read into it.

Dr John Crippen said...

Hi Paul

Lucky you, up there in civilisation. Yes, I was very cross about the way Charlie was treated. All the sanctimonious claptrap about it being in the interests of the party for him to step down etc etc.

A bit of what I said was :

Why is that relevant? Because some years ago, Ming, one of Charlie’s colleagues (sic), was diagnosed with NHL. The prognosis for NHL is not wonderful. On average, the 5-year survival rate for men aged 60-69 with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is 45% in England and Wales 1991-95 (Cancer Survival, National Statistics).

I wish Ming well, and I hope he is in the best prognosis group, but really this should have been in his prospectus.

John

Joe Otten said...

Paul,

That Ming appointed Clegg and not someone else to the home office brief, is not a sign of jockeying by Clegg. So I maintain there is no sign of a contest.

And I am willing to bet that Clegg will show nothing but loyalty to Campbell throughout his tenure, whatever the gossips would like him to do.

Paul Linford said...

Joe

I would concede you this much - namely that what Clegg might wish to happen is to serve Ming loyally for such time until he hands over to him of his own accord. But politics doesn't work like that.

What if, as many suppose, the public remains resolutely unenthused by Ming and, two years from now, the Lib Dems are flatlining around 15pc in the polls and looking at general election meltdown? And what if, at the same time, Clegg has shone in the Home Affairs brief, has become a national figure in the way Blair did when he held the same brief under John Smith, and - crucially - is repeatedly shown by polls to be more popular than his leader? Well, if so, it won't take long for Lib Dem MPs to put two and two together, and conclude that they would stand a better chance of holding onto their 63 seats with Clegg as leader than with Campbell.

Now here's the rub. If, in spite of all this, Clegg continued to protest his loyalty to Ming, and refused to run against him a second time people would conclude he didn't really have the appetite or bottle for party leadership. Someone else - Huhne? Laws? - might come in. Or Campbell would limp on. Either way Clegg would be forever branded as a man who didn't quite have what it took to strike when the iron was hot.

This is exactly what happened to Michael Portillo, whose chance of the Premiership disappeared after he failed to plunge the knife into John Major and thereby yielded up the leadership of the Tory right to John Redwood.

As Shakespeare put it: "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, if taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." If Clegg's chance of the leadership comes before the next election rather than after it, he simply dare not turn it down again.