Warning: This post was published more than 11 years ago.
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Charles Kennedy, the most successful leader of the Liberal Democrats in many years, has been forced by his own MPs to resign as party leader, despite huge support by the party at large, and huge public support.
Charles admitted earlier in the week that he had openly and repeatedly lied about having a drinking problem. He called a leadership election so that the party membership could decide whether or not he should continue as their leader, and yet a cabal of MPs decided that the membership might make the ‘wrong’ decision, and so chose to announce that they wouldn’t serve under Kennedy, forcing him into resignation.
This is a great achievement by these rebel MPs: They’ve destroyed their most successful leader, split the party down the middle, alienated the party membership, and left the Lib Dems in turmoil going into the May elections. There can hardly be a more destructive thing to do, particularly when we’re seeing the Conservatives reviving and moving more towards the middle-ground which has traditionally been Lib Dem territory. And, just when David Cameron is repositioning his party as the different party avoiding ‘Punch-and-Judy politics’, the Lib Dems have successfully positioned themselves as the same back-stabbing, puerile idiots which turn the public off. Well done.
Having said all that, it was clear that Charles couldn’t continue as leader. Except in the world of The West Wing, you can’t openly lie about a serious medical problem, especially during an election campaign, and not expect it to come and destroy you at some point in the future. But would it really have been too difficult to convince him in private to resign, and hence avoid all of this mess and a big party split? There must have been a better way to deal with this: After all, it can’t have been handled much worse.
Even his resignation announcement has been badly handled. His statement, critical of the Parliamentary party, will now run in the Sundays, and again in the Mondays. That’s two days of Lib Dem bashing where it could have been just one had he announced yesterday or tomorrow. Whoops.
Who will replace him? Well, to be perfectly honest, there don’t seem any particularly startling candidates that spring to mind immediately. But then, Kennedy didn’t seem startling. He was the different, down-to-Earth ‘nice-guy’ of politics, which is what made him so popular in the party and in the country. We can only hope that his successor will be as popular, or the still-progressing era of three party politics will go into serious regression.