Monday, January 09, 2006

A personal and political tragedy

Regular readers of my column will know I am one of the few political journalists to have stuck up for poor old Charles Kennedy during his recent troubles, together with my old lobby colleague Paul Routledge.

Well, despite our best efforts, the plotters have done their worst and Charles - the democratically-elected choice of the Lib Dem membership - has now been forced to resign.

His much-publicisied alcohol problems were purely an excuse. After all, Sir Winston Churchill won the Second World War fuelled on a daily diet of champagne, brandy and claret, and even Margaret Thatcher regularly used to hit the whisky bottle in late-night talks with her advisers.

No, this was a plot orchestrated by the people around Sir Menzies Campbell who saw this crisis as a last chance to lever their man into the top job at 64.

I'll be returning to this issue of course, but for now I will confine my comments to the treachery of two individuals in particular whose behaviour has had me reaching for the sick bag in recent days.

ITN political correspondent Daisy McAndrew broke the story about Mr Kennedy's drink problem, using the inside information and extensive contacts gained from her spell as his press secretary from 1999-2001.

Equally disloyal was Sarah Teather MP, who would not have won the Brent East by-election if it hadn't been for Mr Kennedy's principled opposition to the Iraq War.

The irony is that Sir Menzies, who she is now supporting, wanted Mr Kennedy to back the war. Had he done so, Ms Teather would never have won the votes of her thousands of moslem constituents!

Meanwhile, fair play to another old lobby mucker, David Perry, for this exclusive interview with Mr Kennedy in his local paper, the Aberdeen Press and Journal.

IMHO, Mr Kennedy's obvious anger at the way he has been treated is completely justifiable.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Your votes for Bleak House, please!

The BBC website (the most visited in the western world) doesn't need me to increase its traffic levels but it is currently well worth a visit on account of its best drama of 2005 poll.

Like nearly all such polls, this would be an entirely worthless exercise were it not for the fact that it gives us all an opportunity to show our appreciation of the brilliant recent adaptation of Charles Dickens' Bleak House

With totally amazing performances from Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock, Burn Gorman as Guppy, Charles Dance as Tulkinghorn and Johnny Vegas as spontaneous combustion victim Krook, this was in my view the best thing that's been on TV since Our Friends in the North.

The poll has now closed but the results will shortly be available here.

Hands off Charles Kennedy!

The Guardian, that supposed bastion of liberal Britain, has become the latest press organ to plunge the knife into Charles Kennedy with this editorial published on January 4.

Leaving aside the issue of what Mr Kennedy has or hasn’t done to merit such treachery, the Grauniad's criticism of him for giving “no indication of where he wants liberal democracy to go next” is disingenuous in view of its own failure to do so.

As a normally astute observer of the political scene, it knows as well as I do that removing Mr Kennedy would see him replaced either by someone such as Simon Hughes who would take the party to the left, or someone like Sir Menzies Campbell or Mark Oaten who would take it to the right.

What I would like to know is why those who seek a change in the leadership think that either strategy would serve the party’s electoral interests better than Mr Kennedy’s approach of seeking to appeal to both Tory and Labour floating voters alike. I enlarged on this point in this column orginally published in December.