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Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Where is the passion?

If you saw the edited highlights of Jeremy Paxman's interview with Charles Kennedy on BBC2's Newsnight on Monday evening, be thankful that you didn't have to endure the whole 30 minutes earlier in the evening on BBC1. (You can watch the interview online by clicking on the link on this page).

Kennedy was on the defensive throughout the interview and his basic problem became clear. It isn't knowledge of party policy (though that would help). The man has no fire in his belly. He needs to project passion and conviction but seems to possess neither.

I cannot recommend strongly enough Matthew Parris's
column in Saturday's Times, which identified this problem ahead of the interview.

Where is the passion? Is George Galloway to be Britain's only mouthpiece for the fury millions feel?
Parris, as a Tory, is surprisingly sympathetic to the Liberal Democrats' political opportunity but not to the party's lack of clear leadership or direction.

In the next Parliament ID cards will prove the new gambling Bill: at first broadly popular in principle, on inspection increasingly problematical in practice and finally open to growing philosophical attack. Mr Howard's Tories are in a mess about the issue. Mr Kennedy's Lib-Dems' position is impeccable on paper.

So where's Charlie? Where is the philosophical confidence? Where are the ringing declarations? Yes I know - I am a Tory - that many floating Conservatives today ask what the fuss is all about. Well, tell them! Tell them why it won't work. Tell them how forgetful little old ladies will be carted off by the police for leaving their cards at home while al-Qaeda bombers will carry impeccable forged credentials at all times. Remind them about the Madrid bombing, where Spaniards had compulsory ID cards. Remind them they'll have to pay.
And there's another problem - the party's localism.

I could write a book about the opportunity Charles Kennedy looks likely to miss, and it would have the most boring title in the history of political science: The Limits of Rennardism. Chris Rennard is the party's election mastermind. He has masterminded many small victories. What makes him so good at masterminding small victories is what makes his approach so bad at masterminding a big one.

Lord Rennard believes that every campaign is local: "Action for Streatham/ Bakewell/Penzance..." But where is the Action for Britain? Focus is what Lib Dem local freesheets are called, and focus is exactly what a party of local action is failing to establish nationally.
The Liberal Democrats lack a clear national strategy and a passionate moral core. What we get instead is the politics of Royston Vasey, an aggregation of local tactical campaigns in 80 or 90 constituencies. It reminds me of one of those old variety show plate-spinning acts, and we're reaching the limits of how many plates anyone can keep spinning.

The outcome in this election that I fear most isn't a net loss of Liberal Democrat seats (because that's unlikely to happen). The outcome I fear is what happened last time, which will probably happen again this time: a modest incremental gain of a few seats, which is hailed as a great victory, thus preventing any fundamental re-assessment of the party's strategy.

amnesia about local income tax appears to have spread to other parts of the parliamentary party.

Will somebody please get a bloody grip?

The only moment of passion I've heard so far in this oddly sterile campaign was on Any Questions? last Friday, when Simon Hughes rightly exploded the clear pandering to racism of the Tory campaign to thunderous applause.

It was even more appropriate as the Tory on the panel is (my MP) David Cameron, architect of the Tories' vile campaign.
And what's wrong with Royston Vasey anyway? I hear the campaign there's going very well...
Read Michael Meadowcroft's article in the Yorkshire Post (15th April) on the Lib Dems' missed opportunities.
Aw c'mon Simon, this really is a bit too curmudgeonly.

Matthew Parris is always interesting to read, but he does not wish the Liberal Democrats well.

I'm not an uncritical fan of Rennard, but he has raised the party's sights above winning council seats to fighting proper general election campaigns at constituency level.

If we had PR, the Lib Dems could aim at a niche market of people with a strong interest in constitutional and civil liberties etc and would pick up seats with support from those with strong liberal convictions.

Our problem now is that to get parliamentary representation, we have to win seats and that means getting 40 per cent of the vote.

As one who is engaged in writing literature for a target seat campaign I wonder whether Matthew Parris has seen recent Lib Dem literature.

At least in target seats, much of it does mention national issues and campaigns.

And in any case, what's so wrong with saying that the Lib Dem candidate will be an effective and hard-working MP.

Some of the criticisms you make are valid, but things are broadly getting better. The party is becoming more professional, more political and more coherent.
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