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All right Charlie?

Nick Robinson | 10:39 UK time, Wednesday, 14 December 2005

It seems to be catching - the idea of changing your leadership, that is.

The Tories have done it, some Labour MPs are thinking of little else and now the Lib Dems are wondering whether it's their turn. Yesterday Charles Kennedy moved to head off what both his friends and enemies agree was an attempted mutiny.

No-one used the meeting to tell Charles to his face what they tell each other or indeed the media - namely that they don't think Charles is up to it. Many did though queue up to express their concerns. Mr Kennedy told his team that the mutterings about him had to stop and that if they weren't happy with him, they and not he should consider their positions.

That's a long and more elegant Kennedy-esque way of saying "Put up or shut up".

Senior Lib Dems were then invited to tell their leader or, if they preferred, their Chief Whip what they thought should happen next. My sense is that if his colleagues had been asked "Would you like Charles to spend more time with his family - a lot more time", the answer of many would be yes.

That's very different, though, from telling a man who wants to stay and was recently re-elected to the job that he has to go. The widespread hope among the Lib Dem leadership that Charles Kennedy might "stand down in his own time with dignity" has been dashed. Either his critics push him out before Christmas or they will be forced to accept that he's staying. Watch this space.

PS... CK has not yet used his best defence - namely that he's so expanded his party that it's big enough to have leadership coups and rival factions. On the other hand, maybe that wouldn't be his strongest line...


  • 1.
  • At 11:05 AM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Andrew Davies wrote:

I think Kennedy's an unfortunate victim of his own success. As you say Nick, he's grown the party by such an extent that they're big enough to have leadership wrangles, but he's also grown it to a point where, miracle of miracles, they actually have a reasonable chance of being the main opposition party.
This obviously makes many in the party look at their leader and decide for the first time whether he would make a Prime Minister, and in Kennedy's case I don't think anyone would ever see him as a statesman or leader of men.
The Libs need someone who has the Blair qualities of charm and matey bonhomie coupled with dignity and firmness that the Tories have gambled on with Cameron. But is there anyone on their front bench who really offers that alternative?

  • 2.
  • At 11:18 AM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • David Wilson wrote:

It was striking that the first time I had heard CK's name in weeks was in relation to a leadership coup. He seems a nice chap (I like a malt whisky myself) and he was very good on 'Have I Got News for You', but under his leadership the Lib Dem's are in danger of fading into the scotch mist.

*** re-posting as I'm not sure it worked last time, apologies if you've now seen this twice! ***

As a former Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate I can see perfectly well what's going on here - and it makes me very cross.

The new intake of MPs from the 2005 election include several potential future leaders - Clegg, Huhne, Featherstone and Kramer immediately spring to mind - and the best thing CK can do for the party is keep the seat warm for them until they've got some Parliamentary experience under their belts.

But if the leadership did jump straight to one of them a whole generation of MPs, the front benchers of the last few years, would miss out - and they all know their only chance of the leadership is to unseat Kennedy before any of the newcomers can make a credible bid for the job.

I think that's why Kennedy is clinging on - he knows the real talent needs some time to mature. When he judges they're ready, he'll go.

  • 4.
  • At 11:36 AM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Harry wrote:

Who are the conspirators that want CK out? And more pertinently who would take over? I can't see who they'd replace him with - the alternatives are either party big beasts who don't mean much to the voters like Taylor or too old, like Campbell and Hughes.

I think that CK shouldn't go: Paddy Ashdown did a fantastic job before him, but then he didn't increase the party's Parliamentary size. CK on the other hand, sold the last election as a referendum on the Iraq War, which he (& the Lib Dems) famously opposed to much public derision originally. All said and done, he's the best thing to have happened to the Lib Dems in a while - keep him in charge.

  • 6.
  • At 11:39 AM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • David Patrick wrote:

Parties should either turf their leader out or shut up. This sort of whispering campaign only helps the other parties, but none of them want to stick their head above the parapet in case it gets shot off.

I think Charlie is on the way out. He's been surprisingly good for the party, but is there anymore he can do for it? On the other hand, is there anyone who can do better?

  • 7.
  • At 11:43 AM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Andy Howell wrote:

Probably not his strongest line Nick :-)

One has to wonder about this notion that they need a new leader. Presumably this will have to be someone who physically looks like Blair and Cameron. Do they have anyone who fits the bill? M. Campbell on a bike - nah, not dashing enough!

  • 8.
  • At 11:58 AM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Gaynor wrote:

It's very disappointing to see a party go this way. The undermining and manipulating that Simon Hughes orchestrated in regard to ousting very decent people from their senior positions, such as in the Summer with Matthew Taylor ousted as Chairman and now undermining Charles Kennedy - on soley the reason to promote himself and push others out of the way has illustrated to me that if there is a leadership challenge and Simon Hughes wins it - it will undo all of the good work that Kennedy and Hughes has done and diminish the party to a backstabbing rabble only interested in their personal ambitions.

  • 9.
  • At 12:05 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Helen Gerrard wrote:

I wish that reporters were able to put some flesh on the bones of these rumours - tell us what someone has actually SAID or DONE. All this innuendo is infuriating - and I wonder if it's just the journalists trying to get a story out of nothing.

Kennedy was elected unopposed a few short months ago. I can't imagine which of the MPs thinks that they could take on a well-liked leader. I certainly don't think that anyone would beat Charles Kennedy when the vote was taken to the Lib Dem membership.

  • 10.
  • At 12:11 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • James Le Grys wrote:

It's funny how often people make judgements based on perceptions rather than an actual record. There's suddenly talk to kill off Charlie because of the perceived success of David Cameron, but the reality is that Cameron is yet to do anything to prove that he is a genuine threat. Perhaps the Lib Dems should wait and see how he does rather than jump on the bandwagon now; after all, the fact that the Tory party is suddenly 're-energised' by a young leader is because it had been 'de-energised' for so many years by infighting and backstabbing. Is this what the Lib Dems really want to copy?

  • 11.
  • At 12:24 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Graham Brack wrote:

Perhaps some of the mutterers need to be reminded that they are only at Westminster because of CK's leadership. As for support within the grassroots party, CK would beat any other candidate that can presently be put up. Time for the everyone to recall that sage political analyst, Br'er Rabbit, and lie low and say nuffin'.

  • 12.
  • At 12:26 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Russell W wrote:

It's easy to understand why the Lib Dems want to change leader.

The Lib Dems have put in a very creditable performance over the last few years whilst the Tory party hunted for a leader that they were all satisfied with. So much so that on occasions they were the 'official opposition' party.

But what have they done since the last election? Where is the passion; the inspiration; the leadership.

If David Cameron turns out to be half the leader that early indications suggests he might be, then the Lib Dems really will find themselves marginalised...again.

Time to find a new leader with a louder voice to deliver the Lib Dem message I think.

  • 13.
  • At 12:27 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • David Morton wrote:

Nick, Charles Kennedy does need to improve his image if the Liberals are to be taken seriously. They did well in the last election as a protest vote and by others who do not take Politics seriously. The Liberals rely heavily on the Tories doing poorly at the polls and with a promising new leader in place, I feel there is a sense of panic developing wihtin the Liberal Party on how they can compete with not only TB and GB but with a new re-invigorated Tory Party.

  • 14.
  • At 12:28 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • sally barrett wrote:

Charles Kennedy has been given the job of emasculating the Liberal Party until it becomes indistinguishable from the other two political parties.

I suspect that he won't be allowed to depart until that assignment has been completed.

  • 15.
  • At 12:34 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Anthony wrote:

Let's face it, the Lib Dem's are not overburdened with high calibre leadership contenders at the moment.

Menzies Campbell is touted as a possibility (though it's mainly him doing the touting). But, although very competent, he's hardly fresh new talent is he?

As for Simon Hughes, I can't see how the affable god-squadder will make headway against Cameron and Brown. He is much better suited to his current post.

Mark Oaten seems less laughable - but not better than CK in getting their messages across.

"Paddy Ashdown did a fantastic job before him, but then he didn't increase the party's Parliamentary size."

Uh? Ashdown took the Lib Dems from 20 in 1992 to 46 in 1997 - 130% growth. Kennedy has since added another 16 - 35% growth.

Let's at least debate the facts, people.

  • 17.
  • At 12:40 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Harry Hayfield wrote:

GAH! This makes me furious!

Charles Kennedy was elected with 66% support back in 2000 and had 47 MP's in the Parliamentary party. He now has 62 MP's (a 32% increase), compare that with Blair (was 419 now 356 a 15% decrease) and Cameron (was 165 now 198 a 20% increase) and it proves that Kennedy is by far the better leader over the last five years.

If these Lib Dem MP's are so keen on becoming the leader then get seven nominations from the parliamentary party and stand against Kennedy otherwise as Mr. Major said in 1995 "Put up or shut up!"

I'm one of these people that voted Lib Dems in the last election, but have always supported Labour in the past. This change, however, was predominantly due to Iraq et al.

Coming from that angle, I have to say that I found the whole election campaign really frustrating. Charles Kennedy was not taking advantage of the Public's dislike and distrust of Labour and the Tories respectively.

The fact that the Lib Dems are bigger now, is not really down to him, but more to do with Labour and the Tories. All a Lib Dem leader had to do to increase the party was ... nothing... And that's pretty much what Charles Kennedy did....Nothing really.

He should have done far more.

  • 19.
  • At 01:05 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • patrick wrote:

Kennedy is a weak leader. The lib dems had the best hand during the last election and ck did not not make enough of it - he was not aggressive enough. Since the election the lib dems, with some notable exceptions of intellegent commetn on issues by Mingus have not existed in the media. Not in the media; not in the public's mind; not gaining any more seats at the next election.
Cameron is going to be a good leader for the tories, he will reclaim votes of disaffectived tories that we gained from.
The next election will be a head to head between Brown and Cameron.
If we do not raise our profile,(in a productive way!) we will lose seats at eh next gerneral election.

  • 20.
  • At 01:24 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • OrpingtonMan wrote:

I can understand entirely the calls for CK to go. The last General Election was the best chance we LDs have had for a generation to make serious inroads - discontent over the war will not be as high next time - yet we failed to make the headway that we would need to become the new opposition. If we couldn't do it now, then when? On top of that, Cameron could prove as much of a threat (if not more so) to us as to Labour.

  • 21.
  • At 01:24 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Gavin wrote:

With the Tories changing leadership and Labour [probably/possibly] changing leadership before the next election I can see that some Lib Dems want to look like they are also moving forward. Also, it is better to get any leadership challenges out of the way ealier rather than later.

However I see CK as one of the few MP's who has integrity. Under his guidance the Lib Dems have mostly avoided the mudslinging during the election campaigning. But perhaps he's just too nice?

Absoloutley spot on Charlie boy!

The problem with politics is that it is too, erm "political". Too much back-stabbing, bickering and falling out.

These people are supposed to be grown adults running our country, not 13 year old girls having a school yard arguement!

  • 23.
  • At 01:48 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Chris Goodman wrote:

The previous posters have neglected to mention the chief reason why Charles Kennedy is regarded as a joke politician. He is the leader of two quite separate parties, one that is left of the Labour Party when fighting Labour seats, and another that is to the right of Labour Party when contesting Conservative seats.

  • 24.
  • At 02:04 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Stuart Ritchie wrote:

As many have put it it is time for the cowardly lot to put up or shut up.
Maybe Charles should end this by doing what John Major did in 1995 and put it to the membership. I for one would be glad to vote for Charles.
All the MPs had their chance to stand against him in July, but none were brave enough to do so knowing they would be humiliated in any vote of the membership.
Instead they want to take us down the same road the Tories have just come back from.
Lets look at the alternatives. Simon Hughes, Mark Oaten, David Laws would all be a disaster for this party. Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and Jo Swinson havent enough experience.
Time to stop the sniping and get on with being the real opposition. Cameron is a Blair clone which will turn off voters come the next election. With CK we have a popular leader who is seen as different to the others.
To the MPs i want to say...Stop playing in to the Tory medias hands and start thinking about the good of the party rather than your own CVs for a change.

  • 25.
  • At 02:08 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Maddy Kerslake wrote:

Charles Kennedy hasn't been the right person to lead the LibDems for some time. Why is Mark Oaten hiding his light under a bushel? Get out there Mark. Menzies C and Simon H have missed their chance.

  • 26.
  • At 02:39 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Mahmood Shah wrote:

change of Lib Dem leadership is needed. CK has done a decent job but he'll never take this party any further. Here is wild idea. Bring Paddy Ashdown back who is leavinging his Bosnian job shortly. Under his leadership now, party will grow.

It's time we all remembered that a Liberal Democrat leader is for life, and not just for Christmas.

Good point Chris Goodman. But you're not seriously suggesting that a more credible leader would make that choice between left and right? That would be political suicide for the Lib Dems, and would drop their support by a half.

I think the Lib dems should carry on with their current approach in this respect, and take it further. They should stand on the "None of the Above" angle, and push for PR. It's the only thing that makes them different, and like it or not, they will always be the party for disaffected voters.

See the Richard Pryor 80s comedy hit movie "Brewsters Millions", for a simplified, but (sort-of) funny, demonstration of this approach.

  • 29.
  • At 06:43 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Ellen Robb wrote:

Is the real problem Charlie? Or more likely his spin doctors? Surely no one really believes the guff about 62 (up from 52 in 2001) being a good result???? Even given the shortcomings of the electoral system, there were some fairly major gaffs - decapitation for one - and some real failures to be creative and innovative in the strategy. Predictable and stale - and that surely must be the fault of the spin doctors.

The bloke seems pretty decent to most people - human, honest, straightforward and never more so than during the campaign. Something or someone else clearly let him down.

  • 30.
  • At 11:17 PM on 14 Dec 2005,
  • Helen Sinclair wrote:

I must say Nick, you were looking a bit grey this evening. Perhaps these 'Senior party members' should consider giving you journalists a break from all their unofficial briefings?

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