Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

'Charlie Chamberlain' Brings House's Scorn; War on Terror: COMMENTARY

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

'Charlie Chamberlain' Brings House's Scorn; War on Terror: COMMENTARY

Article excerpt


THERE is a new and nasty nickname doing the rounds of the Westminster bars. "Charlie Chamberlain," chortle the wits, "the great appeaser." It's not a slur that his drumroll announcement of participation in the antiwar demo this Saturday will help shift.

Charlie Chamberlain, aka the Rt Hon Charles Peter Kennedy - bar fly, television celeb and leader of the Liberal Democrats - is beginning to look like he's milking this war for his own political profit.

The polls say he is doing well out of frustration with Labour and the Tories' continuing misery. Yet suddenly Kennedy is the object of contempt and is being compared to Neville Chamberlain, the appeaser of Munich.

When he gets up on his hind legs in the House of Commons for a bit of antiwar talk, he hurtles earthwards like a lead-lined Hindenburg.

Kennedy's critics slap on the Chamberlain tag not simply because they consider his anti-war views opportunistic. It's more personal than that. When Kennedy accused the Blair Government of sending out "mixed messages" on Iraq there was a bark of disbelief from all sides. "Bloody hypocrite!" growled one Cabinet minister.

As far as many MPs are concerned, the Lib-Dems are themselves matchless masters of the mixed message. From seat to seat, region to region, they switch and swap their views to grab the votes. Could Kennedy be taking a risk too far?

It is 20 years since he became the MP for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (now called Ross, Skye and Inverness West). A brilliant debater, silver-reparteed, he quickly impressed. Two decades on, the act is wearing thin, the voice has thickened and rivals see a chance to settle ancient envies. The criticisms come not just from the obvious quarters. He's even heckled by far-Left Labour MPs who agree with him on Iraq.

There are also grumblings from Lib-Dems about Kennedy's work rate (a polite way of saying he is lazy). …

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