Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Adrian Mole Generation: David Miliband (Labour), David Cameron (Tory) and Nick Clegg (Lib Dem) Lead the New Wave in Politics, and Though They Are in Different Parties They Have a Lot in Common

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Adrian Mole Generation: David Miliband (Labour), David Cameron (Tory) and Nick Clegg (Lib Dem) Lead the New Wave in Politics, and Though They Are in Different Parties They Have a Lot in Common

Article excerpt

The unceremonious removal of Charles Kennedy as leader of the Liberal Democrats had nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with the revival of the Conservative Party under David Cameron. By his own admission, Kennedy had been struggling with alcoholism for at least 18 months and his colleagues had consistently covered for him. They were prepared to do so only as long as the Conservative Party proved itself to be even more incoherent and divided than they were.

The Sheffield MP Nick Clegg, an important figure in Menzies Campbell's leadership campaign who has been tipped to become a future leader himself, is unequivocal. As soon as Cameron came on the scene Kennedy had to go. "The crisis about Charles Kennedy's leadership was a response to the changing geography of British politics," he told me. "The centre ground was becoming crowded and we were not punching above our weight. If the leadership election comes out in the right way we will be better-equipped to stop Cameron stealing the liberal mantle from us."

In one month David Cameron has become the driving force in British politics and the other two parties have been forced on to the defensive. Tony Blair has been quickest to react to the threat, and the reshuffle he began trailing in interviews in the past week will bring a further injection of youth into a government that looks sluggish and old-fashioned compared with the vim and enthusiasm of Cameron and his lieutenants.

We are witnessing a significant moment in British politics, with the passing of the political baton from one generation to the next in each of the three main parties. This is never a painless process, but in its hunger for victory, the Tory party has so far allowed the transition to happen with the minimum of fuss. The Liberal Democrats and Labour are not yet prepared to go as far in handing over the leadership itself, but power is shifting.

Blair is adamant that new blood will be necessary to counter the Cameron threat. His praise for the next generation of new Labour politicians, in advance of the reshuffle, has inevitably been interpreted as a dig at Gordon Brown, but on one level the Prime Minister was simply recognising the growing need for the party to renew itself while still in power. It has long been possible to interpret every utterance by Brown or Blair as evidence of a split, but the Chancell or would not disagree that David Miliband and Douglas Alexander are critical to the future of any Labour government.

It may seem odd to suggest that the Liberal Democrats are going through a similar process of rejuvenation when they look determined to transfer the leadership from a relatively young man of 46 to someone a year off from the state retirement age. But it has been noted that Nick Clegg and David Laws, "Young Turks" of the Lib Dem right, have lined up behind the older man. As one senior Liberal Democrat notes: "Ming Campbell is not known for his grasp of domestic politics, so there may be a calculation that there will be scope for the younger members of his team to drive that agenda." The second candidate to declare, Mark Oaten, is similarly in his early forties, as is his most high-profile supporter, Lembit Opik. Although they will almost certainly lose in the leadership ballot, both men are guaranteed a future as prominent members of their party's front-bench team.

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The recent events have confirmed the emergence of a generation of politicians young enough to dominate the scene for at least the next decade. Indeed, in 2016 Cameron, Miliband and Clegg will all be younger than Tony Blair is now.

Born within 18 months of each other, they form an oddly homogeneous group of fortyish, Oxbridge-educated politicians more remarkable for their similarities than their differences. All three have been involved in front-line politics since their twenties: Cameron as an adviser to Norman Lamont and Michael Howard, Clegg as an adviser to the Tory Leon Brittan when he was a European commissioner, and Miliband as an influential architect of the new Labour project. …

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