Sunday, February 19, 2006

Home thoughts

As Andy Murray knocks out Andy Roddick 7-5, 7-5 to go into the final in San Jose, it is a cheerful start to the day. Also, perhaps, not inappropriate to reflect on the role of Scots in the modern United Kingdom, and one Scot in particular: Ming Campbell.

The election for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats has come down to the wire, between Chris Huhne and Sir Menzies Campbell. It is time to justify my choice of leader. I say this, because this has been a very real contest and has shown some very real divisions. There has also been something of an undercurrent in this battle that has not been friendly and occasionally even bitter. I have little doubt that many members of the Parliamentary Liberal Democrats have not welcomed the candidacy of Chris Huhne- a man so recently elected to their number. The feeling amongst the Parliamentarians has been that one should earn one's spurs before presuming to lead them. Thus, seniority does count for something- as many coded messages in this campaign have made clear.

However, the fact is that many outside the Parliamentary party are very unhappy with the overall performance of that party and feel that, for whatever reason, the Liberal Democrats have underperformed- there is a sense of rebellion in the air. The general mishandling of the removal of Charles Kennedy has left a legacy of mistrust. Ming and others have been- unfairly in my view- blamed for these mistakes. Certainly the leading figures in Cowley St.- not least Chris Rennard- have given a firm impression of seeking to make amends, and the commitment that they showed in Dunfermline was part of that. Nevertheless, it is clear that critical changes in our administration are now overdue. Hence the success of the insurgent campaign of Chris Huhne.

The party was in fractious and rebellious mood at Blackpool, and has not been allowed to settle down since. We stand on a knife edge: we could stray but a little and all of the work of the past decade and more could be lost. I have been a member of Liberals and Liberal Democrats since 1979 and know well how easily we have become at times our own worst enemies. Yet, "Westward look, the land is bright". The ideas of Liberalism have made remarkable progress in the past ten years. Issues directly from the Liberal agenda, from home rule for Scotland and Wales, to environmental protection, to civil liberties and respect for international law have become central to the political debate in this country and the world. We have made continued progress, with Willie Rennie MP being only the latest of a haul of talented and thoughtful Parliamentarians to grace the Liberal Democrat benches.

So- what is to be done? I want to see a united and disciplined party that can address the weaknesses in our programme- and there are several: economic, educational, welfare, health reform all need work. I also believe that the question of land ownership and land taxation need to be addressed, and that the whole basis for our nationalized control over development needs to be changed. This, like transport and the environment, with which land reform forms a policy triangle, will be of increasing significance as the limits to growth are tested more severely.

I have voted for Ming Campbell. This is despite the fact that in many policy areas I find myself in sympathy with the Huhne-ites -indeed Chris is a prominent member of ALTER, which has been strong in voicing the issue of Land Reform. However, the fact is that Ming represents a distinguished tradition of Scottish Liberalism. Coming from the state schooling sector and relatively modest beginnings, Ming could have been not merely a friend of John Smith and Donald Dewar, but a political ally. Achieving great distinction in sport and at the bar, he was invited by the Conservatives to join them. Ming is, however, a true Liberal. One of those PPCs who stood again and again without success, before finally breaking through. His discipline and focus are undoubted. His interventions as shadow foreign secretary have helped gain renewed respect for Liberal internationalism. He is respected by his colleagues. It is not just a question of "gravitas", nor even the fact that he has undoubtedly earned the support of his Parliamentary peers- it is the question of vision.

Ming Campbell, despite being a successful sprinter, is truly the master of the political marathon. The destruction of the Conservatives in Scotland- perhaps not understood by Liberal Democrats south of the border- is not solely his achievement (that credit might best go to Malcolm Bruce from our party) but with tenacity Ming understood the prize, and worked very hard to achieve it. He remains collegiate and approachable. He remains the lad o' parts who came from relatively humble beginnings to considerable success. This wisdom of experience is not to be ignored or discarded lightly. This is a man who the other political parties fear. Under the right mathematical circumstances, Sir Menzies Campbell could even be the Prime Minister- and in the month of the centenary of the election of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, that is a pleasant thought.

I believe that the fact is that Ming is be better placed to be a greater unifier than Chris. The fact is that Ming is better placed, through his experience, to have a broader vision than Chris. The fact is that Ming, by being more open and collegiate, is better placed to be a more effective leader than Chris. So, at the wire: unity, experience, openness mean that I support Ming Campbell's Leadership.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Convinced me!