Friday, February 16, 2007

Ming's Unhappy Anniversary Approaches...

Michael Gove has written a superb piece in this week's Spectator on the failures of Ming Campbell's first year as LibDem leader. You can read the whole article HERE, but here are some highlights...

It is striking that the eclipse of the Liberal Democrats should coincide with Ming’s accession to the leadership. He is, in a way, the purest living embodiment in British politics of the Peter Principle — the law which dictates that people will rise just one level above their natural slot in life, to a position in which their weaknesses are then cruelly exposed.
As deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ming had found his metier. He was the Sergeant Wilson to Charles Kennedy’s Captain Mainwaring — the suave, classier, better-educated number two whose dry style left everyone wondering how on earth he put up serving with under his chaotic superior. If Ming had never challenged for the leadership, everyone would have agreed that it was a tragedy he’d never enjoyed the top job. But now that he actually has the leadership, a very different sort of tragedy is playing itself out.
The pity is that the Liberal Democrats, having once enjoyed a reputation for innovation and creativity, should have embarked, under Ming, on the policy equivalent of a long mid-afternoon snooze. The Lib Dems were once the party you went to for environmental dynamism, but just as the nation has woken up to the scale of the crisis, it’s the Conservatives who are displaying the boldest and most creative thinking in this area. And it’s not just on green issues that the third party is feeling its age. Whether it’s social justice, where the Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark has done more to focus attention on inequality than any other opposition MP, or civil liberties, where Dominic Grieve and David Davis are the opponents Labour fear, traditional areas of Liberal Democrat strength have been taken over by the Tories. Take a gander at the Lib Dem party website and you’ll find that all its spokesmen’s statements are reactions to what the other parties are doing — with scarcely a fresh idea from one month to the next.
Tragically, and this is Ming’s fourth misfortune, the Lib Dems have retreated to their comfort zone, attempting to recreate the warm glow they felt when they were marching arm-in-arm with the SWP against the Iraq war, by making their strongest pitch on foreign policy. In the recent debate on Iraq Ming spoke with a forceful eloquence which will have reminded fans of his golden era, but the content of what he said soon fell apart under scrutiny. His demand that British troops withdraw to meet an arbitrary timetable was widely recognised as militarily naive. But, worse than that, for the party of Gladstone, Ming’s insistence on rapid withdrawal would leave Iraq’s liberals and democrats to the wolves. How ethical is a foreign policy which, when it sees trade unionists and feminists fighting clerical fascists, decides that the best thing to do is to give the clerical fascists a freer hand?
But then Ming’s whole approach to foreign policy is neither liberal nor particularly democratic. Discussing the wider Middle East, his only comment on Syria was a demand that the Golan Heights be returned to Syrian control, in order to satisfy the amour-propre of the ruling Assad dynasty. The part Syria has played in de-stabilising Lebanon’s nascent democracy, and its role in the murder of Rafiq Hariri, were ignored. On the Middle East peace process itself, Ming argued that the main obstacle to peace was the fact that ‘on both sides of the aisle in the US Congress, there is almost uncritical support for Israel’.
There may well be a place in British politics for a party which argues for greater concessions to Baathist tyranny and believes there is a malign Zionist lobby controlling American foreign policy, but one had rather hoped George Galloway had cornered the market. That the leader of the Liberal Democrats should enjoy what most acknowledge to be his finest hour as leader, making these sort of arguments just shows how far gone things are.

Ouch.

UPDATE: I have just received my daily email from the LibDems. In his article Michael Gove says: "Take a gander at the Lib Dem party website and you’ll find that all its spokesmen’s statements are reactions to what the other parties are doing — with scarcely a fresh idea from one month to the next." As if to prove Michael Gove's point the LibDem email contains eleven stories, each one of which "criticises", "condemns" in one form or another. Not a single one of the stories says anything original at all.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

he looks like an old prune like Lord tebbit...Maybe they could retire together and shut up

Anonymous said...

burt the beaver-sort of sums him up I suppose!

Anonymous said...

Time to go fishing for the orange book.

Manfarang said...

"Leave Iraq's liberals and democrats to the wolves"
You don't know much about Iraq do you!

Anonymous said...

Love the picture. Never seen someone look simultaneously asleep and pompous.

Anonymous said...

"On the Middle East peace process itself, Ming argued that the main obstacle to peace was the fact that ‘on both sides of the aisle in the US Congress, there is almost uncritical support for Israel’."

And you obviously disagree with this? What would you say the main obstacle to peace in the middle east was then Iain?

I'm a Tory through and through, always have been - but I fail to see why the modern Tory party seems unable to criticise Israel or the US.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not an apologist for Hezbollah either, but if you think the way the US backs Israel whatever they do is okay and is not harming the middle east then I fear you are sorely mistaken and I worry that this kind of attitude together with perceived Tory support for the Iraq war will diminish the amount of available votes come the next election - and we NEED to get rid of this corrupt scum that is currently running the country - if the tories can't do it at the next election, a HELL of a lot of people are going to be leaving the country...

Why do most Tories still say "Yeah I support(ed) the war" when what they should be saying is "Yeah I supported the war because I believed the 'intelligence' Bliar told us about - if I'd known the lengths he had gone to to embellish that report then I would have never supported the whole bloody idiotic mess"

Iain Dale said...

Anonymous, don't put words in my mouth. I am happy to criticse the US and Israel when appropriate as you will see from previous blog posts.

Anonymous said...

Your error Iain is to assume the LibDems are a Party. They campaign locally and on different local platforms - it is much more a Federation than a Party and it will leaveConservatives standing in Northern England.

I suspect the North of England will be Labour, LibDem and BNP in coming years with Conservatives as a fringe party from the South.

Ming Campbell is unimportant for local campaigning and I think this metropolitan obsession with party leaders does not impact on voters so much as seething anger at failure of politicians to address issues

Unknown said...

The flattening of Beirut might have been an 'appropriate' time to raise an wee bit of disapproval...

Mark Senior said...

Judging on last night's local election disasters for the Conservatives , hug a druggie has bombed and it is the Conservatives who need to be looking for a new leader .

Paul Linford said...

Sad, but largely true.

Unknown said...

Iain, quoting the Spectator is hardly impartial, but that aside, this sounds like yet another of your attempts to "sound" terribly fair, but in truth we all know its another anti Lib Dem rant.

It's approaching two years now since North Norfolk Iain. DOn't you think it is perhaps time to move on and forget ?

Barry Stocker said...

There are some points with some force in the post but grossly exaggerated so that it ends up as insulting rather than critical. On the point that the Lib Dems tend to be reactive in press statements, yes, but that's what comes of being a third party and dealing with a situation where the two main parties dominate media access and dominate parliament beyond votes cast. On the environment, come off it. The last Lib Dem conference dumped soak the rich taxes in favour of environmental taxes. Nothing from the Tories compares. On civil liberties, come off it. So David Davies has more media impact than his Lib Dem counterpart, that's inevitable as he comes from a bigger party. Allowing for overall party access to the media, Nick Clegg has done rather well compared with Davies. It's Clegg who stole previous Tory thunder by promoting a Great Repeal Bill to reduce the burden of legislation. On Ming in general, he's clearly a transitional leader, the real test will be who the next leader is. He's actually done his transitional job rather well, getting free market liberal measures past conference where Ashdown and Kennedy failed. On Iraq, the fact that Lib Dems are no longer consorting with Trots must be a good thing, I'm rejoicing. Given the cruel terror of various gangs going on under a failed state currently in Iraq, the idea that Ming favours cruelty to Iraqis is bizarre, particularly as the evidence is that people and 'government' in Iraq oppose the US/UK presence. You have a point about Ming being a bit soft on regional tyrannies, he does tend too much towards a polite diplomatic approach on such issues, but you exaggerate. I think you'll find Syrian democrats want the Golan heights back soonest, and that Israel is engaged in indirect and deniable but very real negotiations with Assad on this issue. If Israel was to return the Golan Heights in exchange for credible Syrian assurances on Hezbollah, Hamas and Lebanese independence it would be great step forward for the region. I think you'll find that's what Ming is arguing for. Let me remind you that a previous parliamentary front bencher (Jenny Tonge) has been strongly criticised and the Lib Dem Euro Group leader, Chris Davies, lost his position, over going too far in a Palestinian direction. US policy towards the Middle East is clearly more pro-Israeli than that of most European countries and the Israeli lobby there is clearly remarkably successful, however I must concede that Ming made this point in a crude way. I'm a Classical Liberal Lib Dem supporter, and I have many criticisms myself of the more leftist and populist elements of Lib/Lib Dem politics since the 50's but things are changing almost beyond what I would have dreamed of 10 years ago, and that is going to continue. Afraid of the competition?

Iain Dale said...

Nich, I quoted the article because I thought it made some very valid criticisms. Of course it's anti LibDem, so what?! Most of your posts are anti Conservative. That's what I expect from a LibDem blogger. However you sometimes write some that are fair and balanced to the Tories and so do I with the LibDems.

Not sure what this has got to do with North Norfolk though!

However, you will be delighted to know I shall be venturing into the constituency again soon to attend a wedding near Roughton.

Dr Michelle Tempest said...

The photgraph you have on your site says nothing and everything.
Michelle

Anonymous said...

Just waded through the "outraged" libdems who don't like been put under scrutiny like other grown up parties, and react rather too frequently with spite.
I noticed that unlike Michael Gove they seem unable to put forward an argument to counter the points he raises.
But still if your complacent enough to think that the Libdems will conquer all before them if the right within the conservatives mount a mutiny, or that the public will care if Cameron went to Eton you deserve everything you get from commentators like Gove.
I mean how illiberal to judge someone on where they went to school rather than the qualities they have as a leader. But then maybe that is why they are so keen to avoid raising the debate to that level with their own leadership problems!

Anonymous said...

"he looks like an old prune like Lord tebbit...Maybe they could retire together and shut up"

Lord Tebbit often has something interesting to say and was able to achieve something while in a position of power. Ming doesn't, hasn't and won't.

Anonymous said...

Dammit!,the LD's haven't got any policies!

Newmania said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I just knew Michelle Tempest wouldn't be a GP !!

Anonymous said...

http://politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2007/01/29/yougov-confirms-the-big-lib-dem-recovery/

This obviously passed Mr Gove by

and last nights by elections also were alo hardly disasterous for the LD's

Anonymous said...

Mark

What "flattening of Beirut"? Why do you repeat anti-Israeli propoganda as if it was truth? A couple of areas of Beirut were flattened. They constituted a very small proportion of the city. They were controlled by a terrorist organisation, set up as agents of foreign powers to attack Israel. They had done so, as well as invading its territory to kidnap. Why should Israel not attack them?

Barry Stocker

"...the two main parties dominate media access..." simply is not true. The BBC (the largest news organisation in the world) gives greater credence to LibDem views than Conservative. The Independent newspaper also does.

Does not sound like Conservative "dominance"

Anonymous said...

"flattening of Beirut"?

Certainly rebuilt it fast even without Hariri the Saudi's man and construction king.

We must employ Lebanese builders in LOndon to finish The Olympic Village and Wembley Stadium - they are so fast !

Anonymous said...

Must be why they are gaining support and DC is losing it. Oh no it isnt; its becaus ethey are right about the war, they oppose the nutty government policies unlike the 'luvvy' Tories and they are not tainted with the 'snout-in-trough' reputation the other two have.

The Cat said...

Tory MP (Gove) attacks Lib Dems - sholck, hold the front page!

Tory war-monger & neo-Con attacks Lib Dems over the Iraq war - even bigger story, surely? :roll:

Additionally, his points of 'substance' simply aren't that. The Tories have *not* done the running on green issues nor do they have creative thinking in this area. In fact they have no policies at all, whereas the creative thinking (eg Green Tax Switch) has all come from the LDs.

Similarly, on civil liberties, it is the LDs who have been consistently standing up against NuLab's erosions, whereas the Cons have only just switched back (again!) to opposing ID cards.

The only reason why the Tories get any coverage on green issues and civil liberties is "shock value" because, at last, they seem to realise that they exist. They certainly have *not* done the running in terms of any real policies or innovative thinking in either area.

Anonymous said...

I think grove is an excellent example of the 'Peter Principle'. Whilst verging on adequate as a journalist, he appears a quivering wreck in the Commons.

He is disadvantaged with a boring voice, but rarely have I seen the chamber empty as quickly as when he rises to speak.

Apart, of course, when the pubs open

bgprior said...

Poor Ming. Clearly an intelligent man undervalued by media and public to whom balance and understatement make bad copy or viewing, a set of MPs who have been positioning themselves for the succession (and therefore distancing themselves from his leadership) from the day he was elected leader, and a party with an unmanageably wide diversity of views.

It would help if they even agreed what "liberal" means. A party that combines some fairly pure classical liberals with some American-style, big-government, paternalist liberals is bound to have to fudge its policies so much that they will stand for everything and nothing.

From the moment that the Tories chose a leader wet enough to appeal to middle-class apologists, it has looked highly likely that the LibDems will go backwards at the next election. The young cut-throats need someone to take the fall for the failure, and they need the failure to be grand enough that they can gain authority from the rebuilding. Kennedy was personable and well-enough liked not to be a suitable fall-guy (except, presumably, when he was "tired and emotional"), but Ming is bland enough to be a perfect caretaker. Hence the support that was so prominent from many of the up-and-comers during the leadership race, and that has been so absent since then. As I say, poor Ming. But as he couldn't see what a bunch of treacherous bastards his colleagues are, nor how he was being used, perhaps you could argue that he's not cut out for the leadership, however intelligent and reasonable he might be.

Mind you, with the exception of the positioning for the leadership (it's for the deputy leadership in the Labour Party, and for the "soul" of the party in the Conservative Party), much of the above could be said for all our mainstream parties. We need a complete realignment, with the real (i.e. classical, small-government) liberals from all parties joining to form one new party, and the paternalists, socialists, authoritarians etc joining together to make another new party. Then we'd have the opportunity to vote for parties that represented the philosophical alternatives, rather than three meaningless options that we have at the moment. That, I think, would be the secret to re-engaging people with politics.