Saturday, January 07, 2006

Thank You Charles

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the latter part of his leadership I feel very sad that Charles Kennedy has ended up having to stand down as party leader.

I can't claim to know Charles hugely well, but I have met him on many occasions, mainly through work, and I have always been impressed by his personality and politics. He must be going through a difficult time at present and I wish both him and Sarah all the best at what is undoubtedly a very difficult time for them.

At the present time it is easy to forget just how well the party has done while he has been leader. I well remember the period when Paddy finished, and all the questions about whether 1997 would prove to be the party's highpoint. Yet Charles went on to lead us into two further successful General Election campaigns, gaining seats and votes each time. Several of my friends are now MPs as a result.

In my view his impact on the party's ability to take on Labour in its former heartlands - not least by making the right call on Iraq, tuition fees and a host of other issues - is an equally important achievement. Again we should not forget that if, six years ago, you had told political journalists that we would hold parliamentary seats in Brent, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Manchester and Leeds six years hence, they would simply have laughed.

I also believe that Charles did a good job because he tried to keep the party together politically. His comments today about the direction of the party rang very true with me. He is right to say that
there is a genuine debate going on within this party - somewhat crudely caricatured at times as being in rather redundant terms as between left and right; in rather simplistic terms as between social liberals and economic liberals; in rather misleading terms as between traditionalists and modernisers.

I, and I think the majority of members, do not see myself as either a 'social' liberal or an 'economic' liberal - rather I see myself as a liberal, trying to balance the maximum freedom for the individual, socially and economically, with the need to ensure that the weak and disadvantaged are not left behind.

Also Charles is spot on to argue that It should be a debate driven by ourselves. It must not be allowed to become dictated by others who do not share our long-term hopes and goals. We must stand and argue - politically independent and intellectually self-confident.

We have always done best when we draw up policies based on our liberal principles as applied to today's circumstances and not driven by whatever position either of out main opponents have chosen to adopt this week.

As far as the leadership is concerned I have to be somewhat circumspect because I am a member of party staff. However I will make these general points:

1 We should not fear a leadership contest if there is genuines support within the party for more than one serious candidate. The recent leadership contests in our party, and the even more frequent ones in the Tory party, have not, in themselves, caused problems. They have often been beneficial.

2 Neither, if there is clear and solid support in the parliamentary party for one serious candidate, should we fear an unopposed contest.

3 One way or another we have to move the political debate forward, and preferably not as a battle between two 'wings'. A genuine debate about how to apply our principles to the Britain of today is essential, with or without a contested leadership election.

4 We have to get back to solid, integrated campaigning on the ground, and we have to continue to expand our organisation to enable us to sustain it.

Most importantly of all we have to work together as a united liberal party.

3 comments:

Rob F said...

Neil,

Wholly endorse & support your remarks.

Rob

Tristan said...

That is probably the best thing I've read about this so far, you've managed to say much of what I feel.

This crude left/right social/economic thing is a load of rubbish as far as I'm concerned. I am both economically and socially liberal, as well as politically and personally and green. There is no contradiction in my mind.
There will be tension on certain policies, but that is what the democratic structure of the party is for.

I have some ideas as to where this apparent problem may lie, I'll be thinking about ti some more however.

yolly said...

If politics is a greasy pole, as Charles Kennedy has sadly discovered, then his obvious successor, Simon Hughes, now needs to seize that pole with a very firm grip.

Hughes is respected in all quarters as decent, compassionate, urbane, witty, intelligent, principled and also vastly experienced.

More to the point, for the future of the Lib Dems, he is hugely popular with the public.

For all his personal qualities, that easy affection which people from all walks of life offer him is the most significant reason why he is the right man to lead them into a share of Government later this year.

After half a generation of a "New Labour" experiment that has ended up looking as clueless and lacklustre as the dying and dreary Conservative administration it replaced, Britain is long overdue the freshness and vitality that has always characterised the bulk of the Liberal Democrat policy canon.

That's why the Lib Dem membership owe it to the country to choose the man whose electability offers them the best chance of a serious role in Government that has beckoned many times but hitherto remained tantalisingly just out of reach.

In short: cometh the hour, cometh Mr Hughes.