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Home > Politics

Charlie: Down

18 December 2005

Charles Kennedy has been so quiet for so long now, it was inevitable that when he returned to the spotlight, it would be to defend charges that he was dead. Which is pretty much what happened this week. Kennedy has been all over the place in the last few days, more visible than at any time since the LibDems' last conference, swearing blind that he is still alive and still very much leader of his party. Unfortunately, he wasn't terribly convincing.

There were jeers at Prime Minister's Question Time on Wednesday when Kennedy stood up to flap his chins like a bowl of old tripe. These jeers came on the back of 'widespread grumbling' amongst Liberal MPs. Described on yesterday's Today programme as 'a very Liberal sort of putsch', this week's would-be coup has all the hallmarks of typical LibDem non-event. A letter of 'no confidence' was circulated, but no LibDem had the balls to sign it. This proved not that they have confidence in their leader but rather that they realise that Kennedy is the best they can do. Simon Hughes is the most likely to succeed Kennedy, and, to be fair, he has all the charisma of your grandmother's cardigan.

The desperately sad thing about the Liberal Democrats is that they sell themselves as 'the Real Opposition', the party that stands up to the indistinguishable right-wing sludge of Labour and Conservative and offers an actual political alternative. Interviewed by the BBC this week however, all Kennedy could do was imitate more successful, less alternative MPs, by pumping out streams of the worst kind of twisting evasive platitudes. During the interview with BBC political editor Nick Robinson, the only time Kennedy answered a question directly was when he was asked for the third time whether his deputy Menzies Campbell supported him. Finally he admitted it. 'I'm not answering that question,' he said.

The rest of the interview was just a dull smokescreen for the current crisis of confidence. The party is unified, he said. The overwhelming majority of our MPs support me, he said, seeming to actually believe that the more aitches he managed to squeeze into the word 'overwhelming', the more overwhelming his support would actually be. Then, worst of all, Kennedy blamed world events for the fact that he's been practically invisible for the last six months.

'We've had exceptional events since the general election,' he said. 'The terrible tube bombings in London, other international affairs crowding in, and then after the summer, the Conservative leadership elections. So it's been more difficult for Liberal Democrats to get the attention we deserve.' Aww. Bloody bombers. Grabbing all the attention.

So where does all this leave the party of real opposition? According to Kennedy, more unified than ever, 'thrusting and thirsting' to succeed. In reality, stranded somewhere near the edges of no-man's land, ball-less, voiceless and in desperate need of a leader with some actual leadership qualities. Or at least a decent Blair-clone. Ah yes. Step forward Mark Oaten.

Ugh. Politics is an ugly business.



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