Monday, March 05, 2007

Equidistance is now the only policy that makes sense

For a politician whose experience was supposed to be his greatest asset, Sir Menzies Campbell displayed an extremely poor grasp of recent political history in allowing his party's spring conference to be overshadowed by speculation about who the Lib Dems would back in a hung Parliament and the suggestion that they would sustain a minority Labour government in power.

Before anyone tries to exonerate Ming by blaming the rogue briefing on some lowly press officer, I don't think that whether or not this was "authorised" is really the issue. It should have been made absolutely crystal clear that the whole subject was in fact completely off-limits, and this Ming and his chief-of-staff Ed Davey clearly failed to do.

Had Ming made a closer study of the 1987 election campaign in which he was originally elected to Parliament, he would have realised why. The Alliance campaign that year was wrecked by the fact that David Steel and David Owen each gave different answers to the question - Steel saying it was "inconceivable" he could do a deal with Mrs Thatcher - still alive it seems - and Owen maintaining he could never work with Neil Kinnock.

Similarly, in 1992, all Labour's talk of PR in the last week of the campaign strengthened the impression that a Lib Dem vote was a vote for Kinnock, swinging vital votes back to the Tories at the eleventh hour.

Maybe Campbell was trying to follow the example of his predecessor-but-one Paddy Ashdown, who formally abandoned "equidistance" after that election and came clean about the fact that he wanted a coalition with New Labour. At the time, it made good politics, enabling the Lib Dems to benefit from the wave of tactical anti-Tory voting that swept the country in 1997 and, to a slightly lesser extent, in 2001.

But thanks to the phenomenon of "tactical unwind," those days are behind us now. It follows that positioning the Lib Dems too closely to either of the two main parties is likely to prove counter-productive, especially in what is likely to be a very close race.

It is clear that in some respects, the Lib Dems remain to the left of Labour, notably on Iraq. It is also fairly obvious that Ming Campbell is more of an ideological bedfellow with Gordon Brown than with David Cameron.

But that means they need to work doubly hard not to give the impression that a vote for Campbell is a vote for Labour. I can't imagine this being a mistake that Chris Huhne would have made.

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neil craig said...

He has gone so far from equidistance, in giving up PR as a precondition without a fight, that I cannot see LDs led by Ming being a serious choice for any voter whosr alternative choice is anything but Labour.

Anonymous said...

This is indeed a very poor show. Unless a human sacrifice is made of the ‘briefer’, who raised the possibility of dropping Proportional Representation (P.R.) as a requirement of supporting any government led by the either of ‘the other two’: it can only be assumed it initially came from Campbell, Davey or associated ‘handrags’.

I don’t understand why it is assumed the Tories will oppose PR, it has given them a foothold in politics in Scotland (somewhere they dominated politically prior to 1974). They would not exist in Scotland any more without PR. Although they did better in Wales in the 2005 election, again it is a mere shadow of their performance prior to 1974. They run the risk of being destroyed in any repeat of the 1997 election: the membership is dying out in the sticks.

Finally, following a link from this site, I have just read an article by that smudge piece of Tory Scum a.k.a Ian Dale, claiming he is glad of this Lib Dem ‘cock-up’, well at least that is no surprise: however he goes on to claim that he once hoped the Lib Dems would oppose Labour in a manner the Tories, at that mystical time, could not. Who does he think he is kidding? He would rather die than support the Lib Dems. I just hope he goes down the same toilet as 18 Doughty Street and West Ham!!!

Paul Linford said...


If it's okay with you, I don't want this site to become one of those in which personal abuse is directed at other bloggers, however much we may disagree with their politics.


Anonymous said...

Well said.

I've posted a link to this item on Sir Ming's blog [] in the hope that that he may take the trouble to come here and read it and learn something from it.

david kendrick said...

Agreed that granpa Ming's handling looks politically clumsy and out of touch.

But it doesn't have to be quite as off-limits as a topic as the
expert's claim. There are many winning lines available to him.

"We will re-enforce the will of the British people" . "We would try to avoid the govt beong dependent on the narrow interests of a few Nationalist MPs". "We've acted as a brake on corruption in local govt. You can see how vital that is with the current govt at national level". "Could we be a civilising influence on the tories? You'd better believe it". Clearly he'd need a better speech writer than himself or me.

But is it credible for him to say "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it", if the polls suggest that a hung parliament is the most likely outcome of a GE?