BBC BLOGS - Nick Robinson's Newslog
« Previous | Main | Next »

Silencing the mutterings

Nick Robinson | 15:49 UK time, Thursday, 20 September 2007

Ever since they picked Sir Menzies Campbell to be their leader, Liberal Democrats have worried about whether they made the right choice. Today he reminded his party that they picked him not despite his age, but because of his experience and judgement.

Sir Menzies Campbell

Some worried too about whether he was capable of muscling his way into a political contest often characterised simply as a fight between Mr Brown and Mr Cameron. In response, Sir Ming spoke today of his energy and determination, of his anger, and his unwillingness to be silenced. His party responded.

For those who criticised him, finally, for the party's lack of a sense of direction, he spelt out detailed policies on the environment and taxation, and his commitment to protect civil liberties. Interestingly though, there was no mention of this week's most contentious proposal - an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

There was no plot this week to unseat Sir Menzies Campbell, but there were mutterings. This speech should stop them - for now.

PS: It's worth mentioning that you can watch the speech by clicking here, or if you prefer, the interview I did yesterday with the Lib Dem leader by clicking here.


  • 1.
  • At 04:16 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Nick wrote:

I think Nick that is exactly what Brown and Cameron want.
With Ming in charge the Libs lumber on with no real identity and no flair and present no real danger to either of the main political parties.

His speech was decent but there is no escaping the sense of mediocrity that encompasses the Lib-Dems with Ming in charge.

  • 2.
  • At 04:33 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Will C wrote:

I have to confess up front that I haven't heard the speech, and that I know he has lots of experience, but in a TV dominated era, it just very hard to imagine someone who looks the age of my grandpa running the country. Not only does he look old, but he comes across as being fairly dull, too. Based on the fact that at the moment he has a snowball's chance of winning the election, and that the next election won't be until four of five years after that, one does wonder a little bit what planet the Lin Dems are living on if they think he is going to see them become a real alternative as a leader of the opposition.

  • 3.
  • At 04:42 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Charles E Hardwidge wrote:

For all his fire and bluster Ming Campbell is weaker than ever. In response to difficulties all he's done is press his hands harder over his ears and rattle his sabre more violently. Repeating the same trick or doing it more vigorously isn't experience. It's habit. No party that hides behind a false smile and is riddled by backstabbing could move forward, much less be a contender for government, with a leader taking that approach.

In many ways, the growling of the big banks and the glib tones of the media are a metaphor for the Liberal Democrats and Conservative party's attempt to seize the initiative from Gordon Brown. The rhetoric and siren calls might cut a momentary dash but I strongly suspect Gordon Brown merely has more reason to be pleased. Trying to win or seduce is just backfiring because they can't even fake it well let alone be capable of much.

The Liberals and Conservatives have deep problems. Timothy Garton Ash picked up on the position I floated some time ago that staying involved in Iraq was the right thing to do, putting Ming Campbell's famed "experience" in a dubious light. Also, Jonathan Freedland echoed the view that the Conservatives have years to go before they're up to governing. Situations change. People lie. Reality is constant. Integrity matters.

"I don't move my fist, my fist moves itself." -- Bruce Lee.

  • 4.
  • At 05:54 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Neil Small wrote:

Ming is to me a solid politician. But, the Lib Dems have little if any chance of achieving power. With policies planned in fantasy land, their is little incentive to vote for them.

Having three high profile MPs who seem less capable does not help - one who flouts smoking bans, one who has extra-marital affairs and one would-be cheeky celeb-MP, it seems that serious politics have deserted this party.

If Gordon Brown goes for the snap election, the Lib Dems will be slaughtered - and they know it. If they depose Ming afterwards, then they will descend further.

  • 5.
  • At 06:25 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Albert wrote:

Ming is not old, but come next election he would be old enough to be my grand father.
The extreme and continuous shift in policies from one side to the other to attract the swing vote is rendering this party to extinction.
Last time they gave us 1p more in tax, while this time they would be doing more with 4p less in the pound.
Now that is well thought of policies.
Incidentaly Nick, the Continent has far better rules and regulations to oversee and watch the financial industry in the E.U. countries. Yet again what is made in UK is not as good as that in the Continent. So much for some wanting a referendum to get us out of the E.U. Our present financial rules and regulations were not imposed by the EU or agreed in any treaty whatsoever.
Oh, and another thing Nick, although I agree with Brown to stay out of the Euro (for the time being), what had just happened to Northern Rock would not have happened because the European Bank would have acted ACCORDING TO THE RULES AND REGULATION of the Euro zone! This is for those that wanted the BOE to act earlier. Have a nice day Nick.

  • 6.
  • At 06:30 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • JohnT wrote:

I've just read his speech, and I agree that his position should be safe - a lot of what he says makes sense, though I find some LibDem analysis a bit simplistic - does he really believe he would have been able to stop the US invasion of Iraq?, or that the consequenses of an invasion without the coalition would have been any less disastrous than they were with us involved? The main problem for them, though is the "wasted vote" concept - they'll stand a better chance if they can convince, SDP-like, a few high profile disenchanted MPs to cross the floor. A bit far-fetched maybe, but I wonder if Campbell's tax and Europe policies are aimed more at MPs than at the electorate?

  • 7.
  • At 07:24 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Mike Hinds wrote:

I have to say that as a very active 65 year old I am rather 'hacked off' with the BBC's seeming obsession with Ming Campbell's age - often to the detriment, in my mind, to discussion of policy. Perhaps the same 'young turks' who have been bending the rules on Blue Peter etc write the news? And by the way, didn't the original Young Turks cause the decline of the Otterman Empire?

  • 8.
  • At 09:07 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Markymark wrote:

I have to say I wasn't at all impressed with Menzies Campbell's speech. I have come to regard the Liberal Democrats as somehow mopre substantial often than the major two parties, but all this speech gave us was knockabout one liners and easy slogans. Really quite dissapointing to me.

  • 9.
  • At 11:44 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • G Barton wrote:

I have grown up in a Labour majority area and thought there was nobody in Britain that had the same views and ideals as me, but listening to Ming Campbell is like music to my ears. I really began to sit up and notice of the Liberal Democrats after watchinig the movies, 'Taking Liberties' & 'An Inconvenient Truth,'(Links below). They made me realise that it is not immigration or higher taxes that are going to be the catalysts to destroy Britain, but instead laws/policies like the ones we allowed to be brought in by Labour and the Conservatives that erode what it means to be British and let us get away with taking responsibility for our own actions. We should all make an effort to stop having our minds made up by the tabloid press and instead, really listen to what the politicians have to say and more importantly what they have done. Ming Campbell genuinely seems to want to do what is FAIR and RIGHT, but ironically this is not the fast track to popularity in today's society. Apparently it's more important to be young.

  • 10.
  • At 02:42 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • croft wrote:

Those conference speeches are meaningless, nothing more than "music-hall" stuff a sort of entertainment to cheer up the audience, Lib-Dem party members have had a depressing time again and needed cheering up a little.
"Experience and Judgment" his often repeated words are fine, but "age" works sometimes against this, the working of the mind slows, experience gets forgotten, and as a result judgment goes out of the window, the world needs vigorous leaders in this sense
Brown and Cameron are alright and compare well with the leaders of other European countries such as France, Spain, Germany, Russia, Holland, etc.
His repeated 'Green' policies seems to indicate that he wants to turn the UK into an agriculture society akin to the "Morgenthau Plan" which was meant to be put in place for the Germans after their defeat in 1945. Fortunately, Ming has no chance to become "PM" so his speeches are really nothing more that music-hall entertainment.

  • 11.
  • At 09:01 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • David Evans wrote:

I do find the suggestion that Sir Ming is unsuitable because of his age truly offensive. He seems perfectly vigorous.

Attack him on his policies (or lack thereof), on his performance...but not his age!

Yours, yearning for a more noble age of politics with the expectation of dissapointment.


  • 12.
  • At 09:44 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

Menzies who continues to reiterate that he did it and will continue to do it “my way” draws one inextricably to comparisons to Frank Sinatra who it was often said had too many re-launches and farewell concerts; Menzies insistence that it must be the Liberal’s way or no other would leave the UK in a similar situation as did Liberals in Scotland where politics and the political agenda was hijacked by a minority party, with minority views, Menzies continues to campaign well for Gordon Brown but not for Menzies.

There is a clear warning in the Scottish experience for voters who think a coalition Government, a rebirth of the Lib-Lab pact, would produce a stabilising influence that would be good for Britain, think again.
The rejection of the Coalition that run Scotland was bipolar, of Jack McConnell’s Glasgow biased policies combined with Liberal PC, tree hugging was a coalition too far.

If there was an obvious candidate in the Liberal ranks other than their former damaged leader Menzies would not be in office today, the Liberals are suffering from a dearth of talent; other political parties should not find solace in this undeniable fact for they too are suffering from a similar shortfall disguised only by their numerical advantage over the Liberals.

  • 13.
  • At 03:18 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Hyder Ali Pirwany wrote:

Brilliant speech, especially about age, experience and judgement. But he didn't tell us that his prpoerty and council taxes would raise the household burden immensely.

Should this not be "Muttering about Silences?"

IDS and Sir Ming the Mild have one thing in common. They should not try to shout or be forceful. Their voices just do not do it.

I have come across the media trainers who try and help politicians with voice training, and they haven't the foggiest.

Blair did it naturally, so did Howard, Thatcher out did everyone. But Ming just can't.

That does not make him a bad leader, or uninspiring, he just needs to find a better way to do it - not for the Liberals at the conference, but for all those people who he has to persuade to vote Liberal.

When he is on Newsnight having a nice tête a tête with dear Jeremy, I would imagine his ratings are rather good. He does well at that. Watching him on stage it was all awkward and unnatural.

Having charisma on stage is a trick. It is not something special or clever, it is not that elusive X factor, it is simply having the arrogance to believe that just being yourself is enough.

And you know what? It is.

  • 15.
  • At 07:30 PM on 22 Sep 2007,
  • Dee wrote:

Ming's age is irrelevant as he is only ever going to be the leader of a minority party.
It really wouldn't matter one iota if the Lib Dems dressed a chimpanzee in a yellow shell-suit and introduced him as the leader as far as UK politics is concerned.

  • 16.
  • At 11:18 PM on 22 Sep 2007,
  • Robert wrote:

The Lib Dems were knocked into fourth place behind the BNP at a local govenment bye election in Birmingham on Thursday. I know the circumstances are queer in Birmingham - the Lib Dems prop up a coalition with the Conservatives so they don't electioneer in what are nominally Tory wards. Nevertheless, the voters of Brandwood ward were deprived of hearing the policies the Lib Dems stand for and that cannot be at all good for democracy.

The result?

A Labour gain.

  • 17.
  • At 03:39 PM on 23 Sep 2007,
  • Chris Bovey wrote:

Something has to be done to get rid of this awful Government of liars and incompetents. Ming may not be as charismatic as Charles Kennedy, but his speech shows he has the age and experience needed to govern this country and at least try to reverse the damage that New Labour have done. This country must get Labour out of power, if we do not want to live in a Police State with a Government that puts the interests of corporate America and the New World Order before it puts the interests of the ordinary British people. David Cameroon and the Tories would not be any better than Labour, so for the sake of living in a free country that respects the rights of the individual, the only alternative is Ming Campbell and the Liberal Democrats. I hope Brown calls an election and the British people have the good sense to vote Lib Dem on mass, or else this country really will not be a very nice place to live in. I will certainly leave the country if Labour or the Tories stay in power.

  • 18.
  • At 06:26 PM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • Quietzapple wrote:

The Lib Dems may well be on their way back down to the 7% share of the vote they attracted in the 60s . . .

Their leader is elderly in appearance and behaviour, however vigorous he says he is, yet lacks the "bottom" of Gordon Brown.

They will continue as a debating shop, claiming credit for all sorts of things, like they did hypothecation in the '80s.

I can remember suggesting to a local Salad councillor they adopt this principle for education a year or two before they did so. I hadn't heard th word, but the idea was of its time . . .

I didn't deserve the credit either, others were ahead of me, but how often in these situations are the Liberals' claims for credit given undeserved credence by story hungry political journalists?

Boringly often.

  • 19.
  • At 03:42 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Chris Gudgin wrote:

The next election will be such a decisive contest between the two main parties that it's likely the Lib Dems will lose voters, no matter who their leader is.

  • 20.
  • At 03:47 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • Chris Gudgin wrote:

The next election will be such a decisive contest between the two main parties that it's likely the Lib Dems will lose voters, no matter who their leader is.

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.