Friday, October 12, 2007

Leadership: it isn't just the responsibility of the leader


I have to admit that I've watched the events of the past few days with increasing despair.

I'll be honest, I didn't vote for Ming as my first choice (he got my second preference). Naturally, I thought that my choice (Chris Huhne) was better, but I accepted the verdict of the membership as I had in the past (in fairness, having voted for Beith against Ashdown and Rendel against Kennedy, I had little choice!). Like many non-Parliamentarians or denizens of Cowley Street, I had no knowledge of Charles Kennedy's drinking problems, and was surprised by the rapidity with which he was removed, even if the execution was sloppy - we're nice people, or is that simply an excuse for not being very good?

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAnd here we are again. The Press have decided that Ming is wounded, and fatally so, on the basis of a very selective sampling of individual bloggers, regardless of their relative credibility. It might not be so bad but for the comments of anonymous senior Liberal Democrat insiders, whoever they may be, whether or not they actually exist.

In an ideal world, the Chair of the Parliamentary Party in the Commons (in this instance, Paul Holmes), our Leader in the Lords (Tom McNally) and the President (as representative of the wider membership) would take soundings, form and agree a conclusion, and go to the Leader with either a declaration of loyalty or a pearl-handled revolver. Unfortunately, this can't happen as Simon Hughes has a clear conflict of interest.

So how does the membership have its say, or who can speak for it? And that is our problem. We have no effective mouthpiece for our views, either pro or anti-Ming, and into this vacuum step the not-so-massed ranks of Liberal Democrat bloggers, compounded by the general fecklessness of journalists, so many of whom seek a story, any story, as long as it causes debate, even where it doesn't exist.

Perhaps the Chairs of the English, Welsh and Scottish State Parties could step blinking into the sunlight? It is a lot to ask of Brian Orrell, Rob Humphreys and AN Other (I can't locate the Chair/Convenor of the Scottish Executive Committee, even on their website), and given that, in the case of Brian, they can't claim a broad mandate - he's elected by the members of English Council, a group notable only for its usual lack of competition for membership - it perhaps is a step too far for them to be asked to take.

I've urged for a degree of restraint, or at least, that people consider the likelihood of their comments being interpreted in a manner not wholly compatible with their actual intent, but have realised that in a Party which treasures the individual, any hope that we could coalesce around an agreed stance is pretty futile and, frankly, not entirely liberal.

So let's either do the deed, or accept what we have, a perfectly decent man who cares deeply for his nation, his Party and our cause. But dithering makes us look weak, and occupies too many of the best and brightest minds of our Party in a doomed exercise in damage limitation, both personal and corporate. If Ming has the support of the two Parliamentary Parties, they should be able to demonstrate it soon enough.

Leaving it to Ming to "do the honourable thing" is a cop-out. He wanted to be Leader, I can't imagine that he doesn't want the job now, and asking him to be altruistic asks far too much of any man. Very few people are capable of making an entirely objective evaluation of their own performance, especially when it comes to deciding upon their own 'political mortality'. Allow him his dignity, he's done plenty enough for liberal democracy to merit it.

But for the benefit of any journalists who might be reading this, you'll notice that I'm not calling for a particular decision, just that a decision be made. In a crisis, whether real or imagined, kudos goes to the person who makes a decision, justifies it and sticks with it...

2 comments:

Ed said...

Couple of things I disagree with you on Mark (Simon would only have a conflict of interest if he had the faintest possibility of being elected leader and the idea of allowing the chair of the English party to decide the leader's future left me choking on the floor).

But the essential point is fair enough. The party (ie the activists) have been dignified and restrained - I have been hugely impressed at the way passionate discussion is being had on both sides but in private. Activists are perfectly capable of expressing their views to the parliamentary party (even the leader) directly. And I know they have.

So that leaves the Parliamentary Party to deal with the issue - either by going to Ming with a whole hearted statement of support or with the suggestion that he no longer has their confidence.

Geoffrey Payne said...

As far as the membership is concerned, it is easier now than ever before. Write an email to Ming Campbell and let him know what you think.
I do not believe that Ming should be hounded out of office. He was elected by the membership of the party, and he does not have a health problem that could effect his judgement.
However I would suggest to Ming and his allies that they should start making the arguement as to why they think Ming can turn things round and why the interests of the party are best served by his continuing leadership.