Magazine article The Spectator

Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne: No One Can Change the Lib Dems' Failure to Find a Niche

Magazine article The Spectator

Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne: No One Can Change the Lib Dems' Failure to Find a Niche

Article excerpt

The past week has seen history repeating itself, skipping the tragedy and moving straight to farce. Two weeks ago a Scottish MP, tipped from his first days in the Commons as a future leader of his party and hyped for years as his party's one true statesman, stood exposed as a leader with a reputation built on so much hot air, and took a decision which plunged his party into chaos.

On Monday a Scottish MP, tipped from his first days in the Commons as a future leader of his party and hyped for years as his party's one true statesman, stood exposed as a leader with a reputation built on so much hot air, and took a decision which plunged his party into chaos.

The hype surrounding both Gordon Brown and Sir Menzies Campbell has always been puzzling. The Prime Minister is the most overrated politician of the past 30 years: a prosaic thinker, a dreadful strategist, a terrible speaker and -- just to ensure his unsuitability as a leader -- with a personality which repels rather than attracts.

As for the former leader of the Liberal Democrats: his political career has merely shown the embarrassing extent to which we remain in thrall to men with an easy patrician air. His Commons performances were embarrassing, a strange mix of pompous and clueless. He is at sea in most areas of domestic policy. And although repeatedly referred to as a foreign affairs 'expert', nothing in his writings or speeches has shown him to have even a basic understanding of the realities of 21st-century geopolitics.

Both Sir Menzies and Mr Brown's parties have reason to be grateful that the two men were not quite the dynamic titans that the hype would have had us believe. Mr Brown bottled his chance of winning the Labour leadership election in 1994, to his party's immense benefit. Had he stood and won, either against or instead of Tony Blair, Labour would have been denied the leadership of its greatest ever election-winner.

Had Sir Menzies decided in 1999 to do what many in his party urged and stand for the leadership against Charles Kennedy, and had he then won, the Lib Dems' less than sparkling 22 per cent share of the vote in 2005 would almost certainly have been a lot worse. Voters have a habit of getting to the heart of the matter. When it really matters -- in 1979 and 1997, for example -- they have made clear where the country needs to be taken. But they have the same knack when it comes to trivialities, such as the Lib Dems. Lib Dem claims that a revival is imminent are an ever-present in British politics, from Jeremy Thorpe being supposedly about to enter a coalition with Heath, through David Steel's instruction to his troops to 'Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government', to Charles Kennedy forever claiming to be on the edge of a breakthrough. And it is, always, pure drivel. The Lib Dems are no nearer a breakthrough now than they have ever been -- with one important exception.

As the party's next leader is about to find out, the Lib Dems' problems go far deeper than Sir Menzies's flaws. Come election time, those pesky voters repeatedly tell the Lib Dems what they consider them to be: a useful receptacle for their protest vote.

British politics is in equilibrium when a moderately left-of-centre party is opposed by a moderately right-of-centre party. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.