Saturday, January 07, 2006

Kennedy no more - where now?

So, Charles Kennedy announces he will not now run for leader:
it had become clear he did not have strong enough support among MPs and had decided to quit with immediate effect.
Good. Having been reading blogs and comments in many locations, it had become clear to me, as with many others, that, no matter how much we like the bloke, his position was untenable. I wish him well, hope he can recover from his problems and, specifically, hope that he can both remain in politics and return to a frontbench position at some point; talent such as his should not be thrown away. So...

Where now?

Well, we've observed before that British Politics is facing a paradigm shift. Arguments over the traditional left and right (economics and ownership) are, while still there, mostly now a matter of details. Under Cameron, the Conservative and Unionist party is embracing it's socially liberal wing, and appears to be pushing away from the bureacratic centralism of Blair's NuLabour and the utter distrust of the people typified by Thatcher.

Cameron's Conservatives

This is a natural process, Blair has captured the authoritarian centre, Brown is very likely to stay there, so Cameron is forced to take the fight to other areas where there is genuine disagreement. Many LibDems, it appears, are of the opinion that this is a huge threat to them as a party, that they need to fight Cameron and fear his effect on their polling numbers. Well, of course they do, but he's not the massive threat to them they think he is. Under Howeard, IDS and Vague, the Tories adopted a 'core votes' strategy. They knew they couldn't win; the electoral mechanics, constituency boundaries and perception of the electorate guaranteed that, so they concentrated on shoring up their core votes, reassuring their traditional base that they were still there.

Now, Cameron's Conservatives are pushing out from their core votes, and looking to pick up a broader base of support. They know that their core voters don't, currently, have anywhere else to go (except, possibly, UKIP, hence the posturing over the EPP), so are prettty sure that they will keep them, for at least awhile. After all, despite everything, Labour hasn't seen a serious challenge to it on the traditional left, Respect polls well in a few constituencies, but that's it. The Simple Majority system makes this inevitable. Can they, in any way, be trusted to maintain this 'liberal' position in power? Who knows. Traditional Tories don't like it, but they may be forced to accept it. The LibDems need to react and adapt to this, as do Labour, but it is wrong to react to this as if we're still fighting the economic battles of the 1980s.

Left, Right or somewhere else?

Cameron seeks the "centre ground" economically, but is also seeking the liberal, anti-state agenda. Good. That menas the LibDems can work with him, do business with him, and, where necessary, campaign alongside him. Just as they did with Blair pre-1997. New Labour must be defeated at the next General Election. Partizan posturing won't help this objective.

The objective for the LibDems must, therefore, be to ensure that the Government that replaces it genuinely embraces liberal values. To do that, it needs to maximise its vote, maximise its representation and win in as many constituencies as possible.


By emphasing the failures of Blairs government, fighting NuLab in the constituencies where even Camerons new found 'liberalism' will not give them a chance, and emphasising the differences between them and the Conservatives.

The next General Election will be a genuinely three-way battle, in a way that even 2005 was not. Why? Because in many many constituencies up and down the country, traditional Labour voters know that the only way they can get a Labour MP removed is to vote LibDem. In those very same constituencies, traditional Tory voters, who exist even in the safest of Labour seats, must be shown that the only way to help Cameron's Conservatives is to vote for the candidate best placed to defeat Labour.

But what about the LibDem-Tory battlegrounds?

Well, you see, it's these battlegrounds that are crucial. In those battlegrounds, the LibDems need to keep the voters from the soft left that they picked up during the anti-Tory years. It is those voters upon whom they will need to rely in order to keep their existing MPs. In those seats, they need to fight Cameron's Conservatives over economics, over Europe, over electoral and constitutional reform.

Building the new coalition

Cameron's apparent conversion of the old Tory party into a modern, forward looking liberal party is a welcome, and necessary, developement in British politics. Those of us who looked on in horror at the old Tory government can, it appears, approach Cameron's Tories with cautious optimism; they are no longer at the top right, enemies of the blood, but at the bottom mid-right, enemies merely of the head.

It is esential, in the months to come, that the LibDems recognise the new shape of British politics, and look to a leader who can both work, constructively, with Cameron on areas, such as civil liberties and personal freedoms, where they agree. But that leader also needs to be able to strongly emphasise the differences, push that they're not both the same, that it's not a case of "vote LibDem, get Tory".

The LibDems need a leader from the Liberal Left.

But, hopefully, one that can make the case strongly this time.

Update: Full speech with emphasis in the comments.


MatGB said...

Full Kennedy statement for the record:
I wished to make a statement this afternoon having, as I said yesterday evening, reflected over the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

When I made my personal statement on Thursday afternoon I said then that I thought it was only fair to give our party members their say over my continuing leadership.

Accordingly, I requested the opening of a leadership election - which the party's Federal Executive will put in train at their meeting on Monday evening.

Since then it has been open to any other Liberal Democrat MP to announce their candidacy and to stand against me.

None have decided to do so.

In the recent weeks and days I have been inundated by messages of support from Party members and activists throughout the country. It means a great deal to me-which I have appreciated enormously.

Many, many of them have made the point to me that we fought for and founded this party on the fundamental principle of one member - one vote.

I urge them to stick with us and to exercise that right in the leadership election which now follows.

However, it is clear now, that such support is not reflected strongly enough across the parliamentary party in the House of Commons itself.

In all of this the interests of the party have to come first. That is where my personal, political and constitutional duty lies.

Accordingly, I am announcing today that when nominations open for the leadership of the party I shall not now be putting my name forward.

And I am standing down as leader with immediate effect.

I have been in politics for far too long to be overly sentimental about this sort of moment.

However, I would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to the many colleagues and friends who have helped sustain me through my years as party leader in parliament and outside.

And with whom I look forward to continue working in politics for very many years to come - at constituency level and at national level.

They are far too numerous to mention individually, save one - and that person is Anna Werrin. A finer friend and colleague you could not wish for - throughout my first 23 years in politics!

Personally and politically the support of my wife, Sarah, and our respective families remains beyond adequate tribute - but they know the sincerity of what I am saying today.

Now, there are very important elections in front of this party and it is essential in my view that a new, democratically-elected leader is in place as soon as possible to take the party forward.

And that new leader can be assured of my loyal support as a backbench Liberal Democrat MP.

That new leader - and the party - also has some serious internal political issues to address further and to resolve.

And I want to say a few words about that process today.

As I have acknowledged before, there is a genuine debate going on within this party - somewhat crudely caricatured at times as being in rather redundant terms as between left and right; in rather simplistic terms as between social liberals and economic liberals; in rather misleading terms as between traditionalists and modernisers.

I have never accepted that these are irreconcilable instincts - indeed, quite the opposite.

And I believe that unity remains fundamental to our further advance and success.

It should be a debate driven by ourselves. It must not be allowed to become dictated by others who do not share our long-term hopes and goals.

We must stand and argue - politically independent and intellectually self-confident.

And it must be based on time-honoured, sound philosophic liberal principles - principles which have stood the test of generations and remain not just as relevant to but even more essential in British politics today.

The leadership personalities change from time to time in politics, but principles should not.

Civil liberties; justice and rule of international law; Britain again seen as a force for good in the world, through our unique amalgam of roles within Europe, the United Nations and the Commonwealth; a far greater regard for our environmental challenges today and what we bequeath to future generations; and a far fairer social deal for the have-nots in our society.

I look forward to continuing to contribute to that ongoing debate in due course.

My sincere parting advice as leader to the party is to keep that debate within the parameter of these principles - and not to get unduly distracted by the machinations in other parties or what the vagaries of the British voting system may offer-up at a future general election.

That route will blur our identity and turn away the very voters who are still looking to us - rightly so - as their best hope for the future.

It is to that future which I will continue to work with enthusiasm.

First, for the people of the Ross, Skye & Lochaber constituency - whom I am privileged to serve.

And also for the continuing progress and success of our liberal democrat values - values which, when best expressed, give voice to the many who might otherwise be insufficiently heard.

A new leader inherits a party with the largest House of Commons representation in the liberal tradition in over 80 years.

We secured a million more votes in our support at the last general election compared with the one before.

We are established as serious players in the changing reality which is three-party politics across Britain.

I believe that to be a good inheritance and a great opportunity.

One in which I look forward to continuing to play my part.

Thank you.

gavin ayling said...

I feel sorry for Kennedy, alcoholism is not something that an individual can help and it became obvious that he could not maintain his position with that problem.

Being partisan for a moment, I agree that the Tories and LibDems absolutely must (must) get Labour out next time.

And your political compass is upside down!

MatGB said...

Upside down? How so? I'm using the Mori/Political Compass orientation, which makes sense to me, not the OK Cupid one that has the axes all weird.

Unless I've miss types something in the entry, which I don't see at glance over.