Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Ming Could Be Key Player

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Ming Could Be Key Player

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Linford

One of the most oft-heard cliches in the political lexicon is the one that is sometimes known as the Curse of the Regicide, namely: "He who wields the dagger never wears the crown."

It was a phrase much-used in the context of Michael Heseltine's challenge to Margaret Thatcher in 1990, and more recently in relation to Gordon Brown's reluctance to strike against Tony Blair.

But the problem with the saying is that, like many supposed pearls of political wisdom, it isn't necessarily true.

To take another example involving Mrs T, it was she who had the guts to wield the dagger against Ted Heath in 1975 when her lily-livered rivals held back, and she who was duly rewarded with the Tory crown.

This week, the dagger-wielding tendency in British politics struck another blow with the elevation of Sir Menzies Campbell to the Liberal Democrat leadership.

By failing to give Charles Kennedy his full and unqualified backing last December, Sir Menzies fatally undermined the former leader and served notice that he was ready and willing to replace him.

That in turn alerted the "Orange Book" group of MPs that they could go ahead and stab Mr Kennedy in the back, safe in the knowledge that they would not end up with Simon Hughes in charge.

If Sir Menzies was not planning a leadership bid, why on earth did he go to the trouble of obtaining pledges from other MPs not to stand against him ( a pledge Chris Huhne later had the good sense to break?

All that, though, is now ancient history. Ming the Merciless is the leader, and as Mrs Thatcher showed, there is no reason why political assassins should not make quite good ones.

But my main worry about Ming Campbell is not so much the part he played in Mr Kennedy's downfall, as how he will now be perceived by the public.

For all his well-publicised difficulties, the former leader's great asset was his ability to connect with ordinary people and reputation as a genial, down-to-earth, all-round good bloke.

I see no evidence at all that Ming Campbell has that common touch, or that he will be capable of engaging potential new Lib Dem voters ( in particular the young.

A common reaction to his election seems to be one of general bemusement that someone as obviously accessible as Mr Kennedy should have been replaced by someone so lacking that quality.

Leaving the age gap aside, I think Sir Ming may very well turn out to be a Lib Dem William Hague ( a politician's politician who is good in the Commons but who leaves the wider public cold.

But ( and here's the rub ( none of this may actually matter a damn when it comes to the Lib Dems' chances of holding real power for the first time since the 1920s.

Because, by a quirk of the political cycle, the next election will almost certainly give the Liberal Democrats their best chance of getting their feet round the Cabinet table since 1992. …

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