OK, Ming has done the right thing, and stepped aside. Just one thing to note here. The other parties are already spinning like mad on this one, and we need to be ready to rebut them. According to Iain Dale “It is clear that Vince Cable was the man who wielded [the dagger].”
Really? Because to me, he looked like a man quite genuinely surprised and shocked by the whole affair, both in his speech with Simon Hughes, and in his appearance on News 24 shortly afterwards, where he tried to steal Miliband’s blinking crown.
UK Daily Pundit gives us this:
The power-hungry trio of Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and Simon Hughes, better known as the Rat Pack, are tonight expected to deny their involvement in the ousting of Ming Campbell as Lib Dem leader.
Widely suspected of organising the coup, all three will insist that Sir Ming’s decision to step down was entirely his own.
Again, pure crap. We have it from Nick Robinson that he “had been interviewing likely leadership candidate Nick Clegg for the News at Ten, and he had given Ming his full support“. It is obvious to anyone but the most instinctive political attack dog that the party as a whole is pretty bloody shocked at the swiftness with which this came.
Now, the party’s media arm has a very tricky job on its hands. The next few days will determine whether or not the other parties, and more particularly the media, can get away with pointing and laughing at the wounds they themselves have inflicted, by labelling us a shambles for having two leadership elections in as many years, and by painting our MPs as vicious backstabbers. So what we need now, more than ever, is a convincing strategy for media dominance over the next few days.
We have, perhaps unwittingly, made a good start. Ming not making his announcement personally means that, although this announcement will be top of tonight’s bulletins, we have a good chance of also getting our line on the news tomorrow as well. But for that to do much good, Ming needs to take a breath, suppress the upset and the anger which he must be feeling, and go out and give the most dignified and convincing performance of his life tomorrow. The management of the press strategy for this announcement will very likely be as important as the decision itself.
I would expect many members of the public, particularly older people, who after all are the most reliable voters, to have a great deal of sympathy with Ming. There is no reason why we should suffer from this announcement. Ming must tread a fine line between implying that ageist carping from the press has the power to end his career, and hammering home the point that the unpleasant and bigoted tone of much media commentary on his leadership was a disgrace.
He must make it clear, as it is already to someone watching the rolling news splurge that accompanied the announcement, that he has not been directly pushed, and that this is his decision not to let pride stand in the way of the party moving forward. Unfair as the media has been to him, we can’t do anything about the fact that this constant prattle was preventing us from making any headway on the issues. He has simply recognised that, and with regret, he has taken the decision to resign.
There must be no undignified early rush of candidates to succeed him. Remember, the media love personality stuff. If the “young turks” wait until after Ming has finished his set piece, then they can spin the coverage out further. Additionally, lets see a good strong field of candidates once they do come forward. Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne, yes, but why not a few more too? Julia Goldsworthy? Steve Webb? Heck, even Charles Kennedy? We can lose nothing from showing off the wealth of our front bench.
Meanwhile, Vince has a chance to shine. He always goes down very well with voters who actually get to see much of him. He comes across as honest, even when it’s not in his obvious interest, and clear. Much of the political debate at the moment is centered around tax policy, so Vince has absolutely no excuse not to be able to shove us forcefully into the media agenda on his own terms. He may be a caretaker, but the great advantage of Lib Dem policy formation is that it is not determined by the direction the leader wants to go in, but by the members. Nothing about our values or policy has changed with the loss of Ming, and Vince has no good reason not to get out there and sell it.
The next week or so will probably do more to shape the environment which the new leader eventually inherits than anything else. Let’s not screw it up.