After another week's disastrous showing on PMQs, which was put down to him being more used to be heard in reverential silence than in the bearpit of the Commons, he appeared on the Politics Show today and given an easy one-to-one interview and a suitably reverent atmosphere, completely fluffed the chance to rebuild his damaged image:
'JON SOPEL: Leading our news about Tony Blair having signed this petition supporting medical research on animal testing, do you welcome that?
MING: Well, I think Mr Blair's torn now, between the uncertainty of when he's going and a determination of trying to make his mark. That's why I think it's time this uncertainty was brought to an end and we were told precisely what the date is. Not least in the in the interests of the Cabinet ministers sitting around the Cabinet table who don't know now if they're going to be legislating for Blair or legislating for Brown.
JON SOPEL: Hang on, that wasn't an answer to the question. It was a good political answer...
MING: Well, if I may say so, you're not surprised by that either...
JON SOPEL: ...OK, but I think viewers would like an answer. Do you support him signing a petition supporting testing for medical purposes on animals?
MING: I support properly regulated testing of animals for medical purposes...'
Now, it is traditional when doing political interviews to have a point that you wish to get across and to make sure that you twist a question to allow you to make your point - it is called answering the question you wished you had been asked. Thatcher was a genius at this and regularly steamrollered interviewers to make sure she made her political point, but she would always try and twist the question to suit her line of attack. Ming blew it. He just looked dim-witted and incompetent. He heard the key words 'Tony Blair' and then rolled out a pre-prepared paragraph on the PM and the succession, entirely ignoring the question as asked. Compared to Cameron, Blair, Brown and the rest, Campbell is starting to look less like an experienced pair of hands and more like an old man. It isn't good. Iain Dale pounces on a a column by Nick Cohen to explain why Ming's elevation has simply exposed weaknesses that were always there, just concealed by the media focus on the single issue of Iraq.
Remember Simon Hughes and his suggestion that the leader should get until the autumn conference to prove himself? Don't forget that Mr Hughes has been here before. Just a few short weeks ago in January, he urged the party to stick with Kennedy until after the local elections (there's loyalty for you) and gave further impetus to the campaign to evict Chuckles from the leadership. Well, the party changed the leader and still did badly. Is he starting the ball rolling again in a last attempt to capture the leadership, despite coming third in the last election? This would be a last throw of the dice - the Orange Bookers are waiting in the wings for the appropriate moment, but don't have the profile yet to challenge for the top spot, so may circle the wagons around Campbell to protect him for the time being. With Campbell gone, Oaten mired in problems of his own making and Kennedy defunct, Hughes might think that he has a chance against Huhne to portray himself as the REAL safe pair of hands. If Campbell does drive off into the sunset, then Hughes might even manage a Granita-style deal with the Orangistas to cede power sometime after 2009 - which they might find an attractive way of keeping Huhne out.
Nevertheless, I suspect that Chris Huhne could well find himself in the hotseat by the autumn unless the Minger pulls himself together VERY quickly.