Wednesday, August 30, 2006

'You're my besshht mates..'

'Senior Liberal Democrats quite properly and loyally sought to maintain Charles Kennedy's right to privacy and confidentiality while he was seeking to cope with his problem, for which he was receiving treatment. The party is now united under Ming Campbell's leadership.'
Maintaining this 'right to confidentiality' involved some heavy-handed legal threats against journalists who threatened to reveal the truth - much the same sort of pressure that was brought to bear on those who felt that Simon Hughes' sexuality was a matter of public interest. Radders accuses the media of being hypocritical in ignoring their own role in keeping the secret - which is true, but I don't know why he thinks that they are more guilty than the inner circle of Kennedy's friends and colleagues who developed plans to minimise the impact of Charles' lapses. They were all in the game of spin and counter-spin, offering exclusive stories, interviews and dirt to push particular points of view, discredit others and conceal unfortunate truths.

As I've mentioned before, his heavy drinking had been a poorly kept secret amongst the political classes - even I'd heard rumours, for God's sake - for a number of years. His closest ally, the long-serving and honorably loyal Anna Werrin notes that he'd had a history of student drinking that continued once he was elected as an MP and that his drinking actually reduced once he became leader, although his central status meant that any lapse was elevated to an event of huge significance.

The Liberal Democrats were expert at protecting him - even trying to persuade him to seek professional help abroad (rather than the local clinic that has seen a few senior Scottish politicians with similar problems). The new book by Greg Hurst replays the public laundering of dirty washing that affected the Lib Dems at the beginning of the year, an upheaval that had much more to do with the upwardly mobile aims of a group of younger, right-wing MPs who saw the chance to exploit Kennedy's weakness to advance their own cause. The reports in the Times this week covered the increasing disaffection in the ranks of the parliamentary party, including the crocodile tears of the ambitious Sarah Teather, regretfully telling her beloved leader that he had to go.

What is immediately apparent is that the lovely fluffy Liberal Democrats are every bit as vicious and prone to bouts of bloody civil war as every other party. The picture of the Orangistas drawing up their battle lines with their secret meetings plotting with powerful donors and scheming to ensure Chatshow's inevitable downfall, culminating in one of them getting ITN's Daisy McAndrew to spill the beans on her former boss - how's that for loyalty?

The fact is that the Liberal Democrats were happy enough to conceal Kennedy's alcoholism when it suited, but were prepared to turn it into a weapon when it suited the political careerism of a few. In an insanely short-termist act, they've dumped one of their strongest performers - one not without his problems, to be fair, but still a popular and recognisable national figure. And they've replaced him with what? Ming the Useless. For all their protestations of loyalty and swearing undying allegiance to the current dynasty, they know that he is only a caretaker leader, the Regent until one of the youngsters attains political maturity and is able to depose him.

On his day, Charlie was a huge asset to the party. The best the Minger can do is keep the party in a holding pattern - and in the face of a Tory Party looking more determined to make a go of opposition, that looks like a forlorn hope. Chuckles' defenestration was not the result of discontent with his performance, but a nakedly political act of self-interest by a few Liberal Democrats.

If nothing else, this book will provide a welcome distraction from the trials and tribulations of the Minger as the party conference draws closer and help to dispel the nostalgia for the halcyon days of the Kennedy era amongst the members.

One of Iain Dale's anonymous comments notes a song sung at Lib Dem conferences

Over the Sea to Skye(Words: Stuart Callison)
Speed bonnie boat,
Like a hack on the make;
Back to his seat on Skye.
Carry the lad that was born to be King,
Back to the seat on Skye
Where is the man?
Down in the bar,
Loudly the Whips pro-clai-aim
Out on the town,
Out of his head,
Charlie is pissed again


Anonymous said...

I left the Lib Dems in 1994, partly out of disillusionment at the difference between their public image as 'the nice party' and the reality of the vicious behaviour of some Lib Dem politicians in some parts of the country. (This is not just personal distaste; if liberalism means anything it should influence how you behave toward people you disagree with it).

But I can remember that particular song being sung at fringe meetings in Lib Dem assemblies in the early 1990s.

Now obviously, those sorts of songs are satirical rather than a source of objective truth. But you'd have thought somewhere a few members might have asked themselves why people chose to come up with those words about Mr Kennedy rather than any other particular Scottish Lib Dem MP?

Anonymous said...

I don't recall PH saying what a great leader Charles was when he was leader.Clearly TB has been a great leader.Now you must live with the consequences of him clinging to power.Of course he still has Dubya's endorsement.