Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ming's Dilemma: Friend or Party

Ming Campbell comes in for some flack in today's papers for keeping quiet about Charles Kennedy's drink problem. Magnus Linklater in The Times wonders if these lines from E M Forster floated into Ming's head as he contemplated the decision he had to make...

"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I would have the guts to betray my country."

I accept that all those around Kennedy had a terrible dilemma, but it says much about the way Ming and his colleagues would seek to govern us that they chose the 'betray my country' option for so long.

Remember, these people allowed Kennedy to be their candidate for Prime Minister not once but twice in the full knowledge that he had a debilitating drink problem.

I really do appreciate the personal dilemmas involved here, but when the time came to exert leadership they were all found wanting. Those six million people who voted LibDem were betrayed. And in the end, that's all the electorate will remember from this sorry episode.

28 comments:

UK Daily Pundit said...

What will they lie about today? What did they lie about yesterday? What will they lie about tomorrow?

Inamicus said...

This smacks badly of double standards Iain. Many commentators were highly critical of the Lib Dems for seeking to "plot against" and depose Kennedy in January; many of the same commentators now want to try and castigate them for not deposing him sooner. You can't have it both waya - and it looks like sordid opportunism.

david kendrick said...

Lay off. Everybody covers for those with drink problems, including pilots, engine drivers and surgeons.

CK carried less clout than most (ok, you can construct a situation where he could have been a minister, if you work really hard).

Grandpa Ming is one of the few to be singled out for covering a man with a drink problem. That feels unfair. Maybe its because he represents such a prim, prissy and priggish party it appears to be reasonable.

Benedict White said...

Iain, to be fair whilst Charles Kennedy may have been alledged candidate for prime minister his party were never going to win out right, so the situation did not arise.

I find all this current critisism a bit windy. After all it was an open secret in Westminister, so we all knew in January that they knew for a long time before.

Lets beat them on politics, not re hashed old news.

The Cat said...

Come on Iain, this really is pathetic. How has anyone (let alone 6m people) been 'betrayed'? Do you ever sit back and read the hyperbole you've just written?

It's also pretty rich coming from you, Iain, when back in January you were taking the opposite tack and complaining that "this is a political assassination almost on a par with that of Margaret Thatcher in 1990. Few realised the LibDem Parliamentary Party could be so ruthless."

The serious point is that alcoholism isn't a back or white thing: it's seldom clear to the victim of this disease, let alone those closest to him, whether it has reached a stage where it prevents the victim from doing his job. When does 'liking a few drinks' become 'having a problem', and when does that problem become serious enough to prevent one doing a job? Ultimately that is a judgement call for all concerned.

What is clear, though, is that Kennedy with a drink problem did a rather better job than a fully sober IDS, for example.

I'm one of those 6 million and I don't feel remotely 'betrayed'. If I had my time again I'd still gladly vote for Kennedy ahead of Blair, Hague, Howard or indeed Cameron. And I'd even more readily vote for Ming.

Paul Linford said...

I've been mulling this one over for a couple of days and I've concluded that, yes, it is a bit of a non-story.

I say that with some reluctance because Greg Hurst is that rare combination, a very good journalist and a very decent man, and I would not normally want to diss anything he had written. But the essence of this alleged "cover-up" story is that people who worked in Charles Kennedy's office, or who worked closely alongside him politically, were under some sort of obligation to divulge his alcoholism to the wider public, when Kennedy himself had decided it should remain a private matter.

This decision was Kennedy's and Kennedy's alone, just at it was Blair's decision not to disclose the details of the family crisis that caused the notorious "wobble" in 2003. You can question his wisdom and judgement in reaching that decision. And you can question the professionalism of those journalists who allegedly "knew" about the problem for not sharing it with their readers. But expecting a politician's closest aides and colleagues to blow the whistle on them is neither realistic nor fair.

Anonymous said...

This is how quiet the LibDems kept about CK's drinking problem - they sang this - in public with press present - at every LibDem conference since 1990 - and published it in a publicly available song book:

Over the Sea to Skye
(Words: Stuart Callison)

Speed bonnie boat,
Like a hack on the make;
Back to his seat on Skye.
Carry the lad that was born to be King,
Back to the seat on Skye
Where is the man?
Down in the bar,
Loudly the Whips pro-clai-aim
Out on the town,
Out of his head,
Charlie is pissed again

Yeah - they really hushed it up didn't they?!

HF said...

Paul linford said "But the essence of this alleged "cover-up" story is that people who worked in Charles Kennedy's office, or who worked closely alongside him politically, were under some sort of obligation to divulge his alcoholism to the wider public, when Kennedy himself had decided it should remain a private matter."

I do not see that as the issue. It is not about Ming etc witholding the facts from us. It is about their inability to act on the information.

Many of these people knew as long ago as 1999 that CK was unfit to be relied upon to undertake the duties of PM. Knowing that they should have replaced him (without telling us why to protect his privacy).
They did not and actually put him forward as the Lib Dems recommendation for PM at 2 successive general elections!

jane said...

I am most DEFINITELY not a LibDem supoprter or one of the six million, but as some of you say it is a judgment call. I have a friend who is recovering with AA and another who acknowledged his problem, privately, to himself, stopped drinking for eight months and now drinks very moderately and doccasinally. I am not sure whether either of them made the right decision, but it is not my judgment to make. what has made it easier for them is that they are both private individuals who did not have the media looking at everything they did, nor did they have "people" around them with dubious motives - their "people" were their families and friends.

jane said...

and another thing Iain - interesting the quote Magnus Linklater used, I have read it again just last night, because I have been reading Stella Rimington's latest book "Secret Asset" - sometimes people reveal their choice of holiday reading in interesting and unwitting ways. In the book the quote is used by a member of the Service (you know the one) who says that loyal members of the Service choose the "betray the friend" option for preference.

Lobster Blogster said...

I feel far more betrayed by a sober Blair (who I have voted for), than a pissed Kennedy (who I've never voted for) :o)

Martin Curtis said...

My only issue with this analysis Iain is that I do not believe allowing a so-called friend to live a lie in public when he has admitted to a significant problem is in that friend's best interest. I believe the stance of the Lib Dems in agreeing to keep this quiet was about protecting their own careers despite the needs of Charles Kennedy.

2br02b said...

Granted, the prospect of a Lib Dem PM was and remains remote.

Granted, Everybody covers for those with drink problems, including pilots, engine drivers and surgeons.


Bt that is not the point.

Hands up all those who would like to be operated upon by an actively alchoholic brain surgeon, or fly in a 747 with an actively alchoholic captain.

....

I thought not.

So, are you trying to say that being PM (even if only a remote possibility) matters less than being a surgeon or airline pilot?

And don't forget it was loyalty to an individual over loyalty to one's country that led to Hitler dragging Germany down to utter destruction in 1945.

Womble on Tour said...

Question for Iain. If someone on the Conservative front bench knew that David Cameron had, shall we say, a drugs problem, would you really expect him to turn round to the press and say so ?
Get real !

Tabman said...

Let him that is without sin ...

JimJam said...

So if an elderly senior figure has say - a health issue - could we expect the LDs to come clean... ?

Anonymous said...

So if an elderly senior figure has say - a health issue - could we expect the LDs to come clean... ?

Very godo question. If an elderly Tory senior figure (- for example a very famous one - perhaps the most famous politician in Britain today apart from Tony Blair) has say - a health issue - could we expect the Conservatives to come clean... ?

Steve Taylor said...

Wouldn't be the same Magnus Linklater, husband of Lib Dem Baroness Linklater, would it?

Shurely not...

UK Daily Pundit said...

Paul Linford said: "But expecting a politician's closest aides and colleagues to blow the whistle on them is neither realistic nor fair."

So where should they draw the line? Should they turn a blind eye to everything? Rent boys, under-age rent boys, mistresses, prostitutes, cocaine, cannabis, bribes, backhanders .......... and that's just the Department for Work and Pensions.

Renegade_Liberal said...

Nonsense. Kennedy was never a prospective PM. Not even the most optimistic LibDem thought Kennedy, or any other LibDem would be PM.

The LibDem leader does not need to be a credible prospective PM. He just needs to

1. Perform acceptably at PMQs and in the broadcast media, so that people in the country have a vaguely warm feeling that the LibDems are OKish people (a conclusion that no one would reach if they looked at the campaigns run by LibDems locally)

2. Come up with a few fuzzy sounding protest policies that he can describe as 'LibDem' ground

The fact is that Kennedy drunk was, and remains, a better public performer than the alternatives.

The 50p income tax would have been bad for the country if implemented but, as that was never going to happen, it just allowed affluent voters to feel virtuous by voting for a 'hair shirt' they knew they would never have to wear.

Bring back Charlie

Anonymous said...

"Those six million people who voted LibDem were betrayed. And in the end, that's all the electorate will remember from this sorry episode."

What melodramatic nonsense. Get a grip. I'll tell you (from the viewpoint of an ordinary member of the non-LD electorate) what will be remembered: a perfectly decent, pleasant, lightweight politician, a thoroughly nice guy who made several stands, for instance on Iraq, which impressed people; who did as good a job as anyone could expect of holding together that fractious conspiratorial mob the LDs; with a fondness for drink that the world and his wife knew about. And didn't think any the worse of him for. Future PM? - bollocks.

Meanwhile the aura which hangs around Ming is "nasty old backstabber", and the behaviour of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party during the self-created leadership "crisis" just seems thoroughly contemptible. Even now.

Ever Ready said...

I also think that this is a non-story but also it smacks of double standards.

Kennedy's drinking was an 'open secret' in Westminster. So, why did no one report it?

(And i am not in any way a Lib Dem apologist!)

Big Andy said...

I'm confused - especially as this is coming from an old school tory - Charles kenedy has never stood for an election as Prime Minister - he has only stood election for his constituency (where I am sure they know all about his 'problems') if, and ifs don't get much bigger than this, the liberal democrats won a majority of seats, and Kenedy was to be prime minister - then that would be at the consent of his party and parliament - those who most knew of his problems. In such a situation it is not unthinkable that he would soon step down. Then another prime minister would emerge. It would be parliaments decision - and it is the confusion within the media and the country that the office of prime minister is divorced from Parliament and has some legitimacy from the electorate - which only MP's have - that makes this country so badly and autocratically won. Kenedy is an mp for the Orkneys (or whereever) and Blair is MP for Sedgefield - first and last - it is up to Parliament to sort the rest out - not us!

Anonymous said...

Question for Iain. If someone on the Conservative front bench knew that David Cameron had, shall we say, a drugs problem, would you really expect him to turn round to the press and say so ?

No, if such a person knew that Mr. Cameron had a drug problem that was likely either to affect his ability to govern or to expose him to blackmail-type threats, I would expect that person to go to Mr. Cameron and ask him to step down.

Anonymous said...

"No, if such a person knew that Mr. Cameron had a drug problem that was likely either to affect his ability to govern or to expose him to blackmail-type threats, I would expect that person to go to Mr. Cameron and ask him to step down."

And of course, David Cameron would immediately resign wouldn't he!

Oh look the mad hatter is just starting his tea party.

Anonymous said...

How many Con and Lib-Nat MPs knew of Churchill's drinking, and let him carry on?
Charlie’s drink problem did not fit the media stereotype of an alcoholic - drinking all the time. Charlie had long periods of abstinence followed by short bursts of binge drinking. People probably genuinely believe he was getting over it.

Mark Senior said...

And how many senior Conservatives at the time covered up Churchill's heart attack in his last spell as PM

Noorderling said...

I'm pretty sure all 31.515 North Norfolk Lib Dem voters now wished they had voted for you