Friday, January 06, 2006

Drunk in charge

A comment on the post below asks where our free press were when Charlie was drinking in the last chance saloon.

The fact is that they have been easy on him for years - partly because it was regarded as being a personal problem, partly because Kennedy is regarded as a nice bloke and partly because of legal threats from the Lib Dem press office. Back in 2002 - over three years ago - Paxman came in for criticism for asking him about his alcohol consumption:
Jeremy Paxman: Does it trouble you that every single politician to whom we've spoken in preparing for this interview said the same thing - you're interviewing Charles Kennedy, I hope he's sober?
Charles Kennedy: No, it doesn't trouble me at all. I mean, this is the kind of thing that goes around at Westminster.
JP: How much do you drink?
CK: Moderately, socially, as you know.
JP: You don't drink privately?
CK: What do you mean, privately?
JP: By yourself, a bottle of whisky late at night?
CK: No, I do not, no.

That was three years ago - well before Charlie knew he had a problem.

For his own sake, he needs the space and time to sort himself out, without the pressure of leadership. Even if he were to never touch a drop again, every time he appeared a little below par or missed an engagement for any reason, the first question that will be asked is if he's fallen off the wagon again. Times have changed since Churchill or George Brown could combine heavy drinking with a place at the top of government - we live in a hectic world and I don't believe that it is unreasonable to expect that our leaders should be sober. People will feel sympathy for Charlie on a personal level - I know that I do - but they won't vote for somebody like that. While I'd support an alcoholic who was receiving treatment for the problem and was on the wagon, I wouldn't allow a drunk to come in to work, so I'm damn certain I'm not going to want one as Prime Minister.

His colleagues have had enough of covering up his lapses and occasional incapability. When he's on song, he's an asset to the party, but a drunk Kennedy is a liability.

So the row goes on, dividing the party. Jenny Tonge has come back out urging Charlie to kick the habit of being LD leader and was swiftly followed by Nick Harvey MP who said that Kennedy should face a confidence vote from the parliamentary party next week and then Chris Davies MEP described Kennedy as 'a dead man walking.'

He won't make it past the end of next week. How can he? Those eleven front benchers - Vincent Cable, Sarah Teather, Norman Baker (Charlie's former PPS), Sandra Gidley, David Laws, Ed Davey and Michael Moore amongst them - who have no confidence in Kennedy's leadership can't face the possibility of him continuing in office. Add to that the number of other MPs with an eye on their majorities and the pressure for him to quit will rapidly become uncontainable. The worst case scenario for the LDs is that he does survive and the Kennedy saga dominates the Lib Dem agenda in the weeks running up to the local elections.

Actually, that's quite an attractive option.

1 comment:

Ornette said...

I find it difficult to agree with the comment from the Guardian article you linked to, namely

'A public figure who denies alcoholism or related problems has to be filmed in the gutter if protection from a libel suit is to be guaranteed'.

That means they were soft on him. The Guardain I can understand but why were the Mail and the Telegraph so craven?