Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Burning bridges...

Re-record, not fade away...
With all apologies for the dismal quality of the photo, but Ming Campbell has always reminded me of the Toshiba skeleton. He might not, however, have the same sticking power as the mighty Scotch Tape VHS, especially after his speech to the Lib Dem Spring conference. the Lib Dems have thrived in recent years for two basic reasons. The first was that they were, somehow, the 'nice party', above playing petty party politics like the Tories and Labour did. The second was that they were able to cut their cloth to their customer - offering a Euro-sceptic low-tax face in the South-West to encourage wandering Tories, and a big-state , pro-European soak-the-rich version in the north and the big cities to attract disillusioned Labourites.
The bumbling but genial Charlie Kennedy personified this amiable incoherence perfectly. In his defenestration, however, the Lib Dems sacrificed their nice reputation on the altar of expediency. Furthermore, by electing Menzies Campbell, who is not a good dissembler, they brought closer the day when they would have to choose which side of the fence they were going to have to jump down to.
In his speech, in which he set Gordon Brown some 'tests' which he must satisfy if he wants to rely on Liberal Democrat coalition support and mocked David Cameron, Campbell essentially choose Brown. At a stroke the carefully cultivated fog of ambiguity that has shrouded the 'true' nature of the Lib Dems has been dispersed. This fog has not only helped its electoral prospects, it has also enabled its internal unity. If the Lib Dems, finally and irreversibly, come down as a left-wing opposition to Labour, young Turks like Nick Clegg will find it an increasingly hostile environment.
The winner here is, of course, David Cameron. At a stroke Campbell has made his electoral prospects in the South West significantly worse, at the same time allowing Cameron to make the same 'A vote for Liberal Democrat is a vote for Labour' slogan that helped John Major and doomed Paddy Ashdown in 1992. Fading away? Maybe sooner than you think...

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