Thursday, March 25, 2004

Are the knives out for Kennedy now?

The below is a shameless steal from the Gallery News service e-briefing. Why not subscribe to their excellent service?

This seems like a pretty clear signal from Sir Menzies (Foreigners- how do you think this word is pronounced?) that he is available to be drafted if the party gets tired of Charles Kennedy. However, I am more than aware that there are several readers who have a far greater understanding of Libdem politics than I do.

As I've said before, while I have no great love for Charles Kennedy, I couldn't care less whether he likes a drink. On the other hand, if his colleagues think it impedes their ability to do their jobs, well, that's a matter for them. I think it is unarguable that Kennedy has led his party well in a partisan/tactical sense, whatever your view of his policies (and my thoughts are not particularly pleasant).

Anyway, this is pretty much the last chance for LibDem leadership plotting, as Kennedy will get a huge boost in June (barring shocks).

"Rumours about Charles Kennedy's health overshadowed the Liberal Democrat conference, the party's deputy leader Menzies Campbell today admitted.

Keynote speeches from Vince Cable, Mark Oaten and Ed Davey had all been obscured by press speculation about Mr Kennedy's fondness for drink as once journalists had an idea in their heads, it was difficult to shake off.

Sir Menzies told the Press Gallery:

"I am speaking with two glasses of wine in front of me, but at the close of play, Charles does like a glass of wine with his friends. So do I, so do most people in this room.

"I do think it overshadowed the conference. I think the event does seem to have obscured the very important message."

He added that Mr Kennedy was recovering from his debilitating and painful stomach bug.

Asked repeatedly whether he would ever become party leader, Sir Menzies replied: "One should never rule anything in or out."

He added that he only regretted the decision not to stand for the leadership for "ten minutes a day - and then common sense kicks in". He confided that Shadow Home Secretary David Davis who also refrained from standing for the leadership of the Conservatives had cut this time down to five minutes a day."

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A time to plug..

The wonderful revolts website. I spent a happy hour or so this morning checking it out. It's like having your very own whips office.

The information is detailed, technical and erudite. One good use. If you want to know whether a rebellion is significant check out those journalists are quoting on it. If it's not one of the "usual suspects" (AKA the campaign group) then you can safely assume it's big. If it's one of the very irregular rebels, it's huge.

Dammit, I think I'm being disintermediated.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The problem with life..

Is that it gets in the way of blogging. I feel guilt.

I'm not writing a book though -or at least using it as excuse for putting in crap entries-. (Official BdJ backlash member.)*

I have to go and put up a great big fence round Westminster. Also, apply for job as European commissioner (That's a hint to my mate byker)

Back tomorrow.

*Yes, it is jealousy. Obviously

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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

You too can be a Lib Dem strategist

Pop Quiz. There's a war in Iraq, a huge debate on Taxes, the government has effectively ruled out Euro entry this parliament and your party has made real inroads on issues like higher education.

You're holding a conference in which all these issue

So what would your big debates of the weekend be?

a) Foreign Affairs
b) Tax policy.
c) Porn for 16 year olds
d) Bin bag surcharges

If you said hell, we'll do both C and D, Congratulations; you have the IQ of a gnat and are perfectly suited for a dynamic role in the Lib Dem press office.

I don't know whether Charles Kennedy is a drunkard. I just don't. He says he isn't a candidate for the trembly ward and that's enough for me. Trouble is I just genuinely don't know if he is or not. Feel free to share opinions either way.

Of course it should be said that Winston Churchill was a borderline depressive alcoholic. So whether it really matters either way is also up for debate.

Finally, this has been puzzling me - I don't understand this quote from their debate on banning smoking. "“Passive smoking causes significant harm to others. It is illiberal of you to breath your noxious fumes on me and my child.” The case for banning smoking I understand. It is, indeed, harmful to others. Some might say the same about pornography. But in what sense is smoking in public 'illiberal'? What does Charles, who definitely does smoke and in public too (at least until recently), think about it all?

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Monday, March 22, 2004

Of Gordon and Succession..

Crown Prince has always been a tough role. Everyone knows you want the king to die, retire or be deposed, but if you let it show too much, you don't get to stay crown prince. It gets even tougher if the King is your uncle or your younger brother. Why didn't you inherit to begin with? Will you ever succeed?

That was Hamlet's dilemma and now Gordon Brown's. Of the many things to be thankful for, it is that instead of stabbing Arrases and going around all ungyved, Gordon Brown has restricted himself to occasionally shouting at the PM and managing the economy.

There's no doubt that Gordon Brown is growing in stature every day. I recently had a conversation with a very well connected Labour apparatchik, in which we tried to identify a credible, winning, Not-Gordon candidate for the leadership. In the end, we started giggling, as each suggestion became increasingly ludicrous. Only David Blunkett and Robin Cook could be considered as even half credible candidates, and each of those has huge disadvantages in an election campaign.

On top of this, always remember that politics is quantum. Becoming popular itself makes you more popular. Being seen as strong makes you stronger. (alternatively, being seen as a dissipated near-alcoholic makes you leader of the Liberal Democrats- if you believe the gossip)

So as Gordon is seen to be more popular, more MP's will flock to his court. More will listen to the word from his coterie. Power begets power.

So, how to interpret the Mirror
and Express stories today? It's a hint about the dimensions of the Brown government and the change in tone it would mean. The most significant thing about the story is the rehabilitation of Robin Cook. We know what that would bean in terms of British foreign policy, but it is also a signal that a brown government would not be exclusively Brownite (though it would appear to be almost exclusively Scottish).

As for the substance of the story, I don't see any chance of TB going before the election, although we will see a wave of leadership speculation after Labour get a trouncing in June, this will reached fever pitch up until conference, then immediately ebb away as the party pulls together ahead of the election campaign.

(Of course, Blair might, might decide that what's the point of fighting another election just to be PM for a year or so after the election. Personally, I can't see it, but it's the only circumstance I can imagine that leads to a leadership change)

However, the article is a strong muscle flex. It shows that Brown expects to be PM, and is trying to re-assure potential rivals.

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