With all the things I have said about Ming Campbell's leadership of the LibDems in the past you might well expect me to pan his memoirs. Not a bit of it. I much enjoyed the book, which was, as one might expect, and elegant and well written read. One of my tests for a political memoir is whether I learned anything about the author I didn't know before. I have to be slightly equivocal in my answer in that I learned very little about his leadership of the LibDems I hadn't known previously. However, the chapters on his athletics career, his early years growing up in Glasgow and his legal career all told me a lot I never knew - and made me think it was a mistake by his advisers not to play this up and tell us more about Ming the Man.
The undoubted heroine of the book is Lady Elspeth. If I was organising a dinner party for twelve people I'd certainly want her as one of the guests. She combines a delightful penchant for indiscretion with a lioness-like protective instinct towards her husband.
Perhaps the most memorable chapter in the book is the one on Ming's recover from cancer. It's intensely moving and at times make for very difficult reading. I found myself with tears running down my face (not an unusual occurrence, as regular readers will know!) when he described the intense pain following chemo sessions. Although there was very much of the 'not wanting to make a fuss' approach and the adoption of a stiff upper lip, it is clear that the six months following the diagnosis were incredibly difficult both physically and emotionally.
This is very much a personal book, rather than a conventional political memoir. It outlines the authors feelings, perceptions and views of others. There is barely a mention of policy or political strategy. Everything is written through the prism of personality. It is the antithesis of Nigel Lawson's memoirs. I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but at times I did feel the need for a little more political analysis about why he or the LibDems found themselves in a particular quandary.
Ming is undoubtedly a man of personal courage, as evidenced by his approach to his illness. Politically, however, he castigates himself for not speaking up at one or two important political points - especially related to Charles Kennedy. As well he might, some would say. He was, after all, deputy leader. However, he and his colleagues were in uncharted waters. There was no guide book which mapped out a strategy for dealing with an alcoholic leader, a leader who they all liked and respected.
Perhaps the chapter on Ming's ill-fated leadership is the weakest in the book. It is full of the delusion that everything was really going quite well, and what was all the fuss about? There's no doubt that Ming's main achievement was to professionalise various aspects of the LibDems'party operations, but he never came to terms (still hasn't) that his public perception was nowhere near his perception of himself. He blames the issue of age for his downfall, and to an extent he is right. Could it have been different? I think so, but by the time he and his colleagues decided to confront the issue head on it was too late. The public, led by a visceral media, had already made up its mind. I look back at some of my own blog postings on this issue and have to admit to feeling a sense of shame. Age can be an asset. It can be a hindrance but I think we all went OTT in our comments on Ming's age. It's something I now regret.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone. I very much enjoyed it and hope you will too. Buy it HERE.