ConservativeHome discussed Charles Kennedy’s leadership problems last Thursday and they are now all over the newspapers. ‘LibDem Revolt Puts Kennedy On Brink‘ is how today’s tabloid Times puts it on its frontpage. This is an encouraging time to be a Tory with our leadership issue settled it is our opponents that look uncertain. The other parties are disunited with Gordon Brown’s ratings falling and Charles Kennedy’s shadow cabinet in increasingly open rebellion.
An excellent ‘political briefing‘ by Peter Riddell in The Times notes the main reasons for Charles Kennedy’s troubles:
- Below-expectations performance at May’s elections when the Iraq war presented the party with breakthrough opportunities.
- The arrival of David Cameron. The LibDems can no longer rely on easy pickings from a weak Tory party.
- "The new [Times/ Populus] poll shows a big drop since September, from 74 to 52 per cent, in the number believing that the party has a strong team of leaders, and from 71 to 53 per cent in the number saying that it is united."
- Growing doubts about Mr Kennedy’s hunger and energy.
Mr Kennedy remains popular with many voters and tends to perform well at election time but his party is now unhappy with his lack of focus in the mid-term. The party’s Orange Book young turks would probably like Kennedy to go but they fear that the big-state Simon Hughes (54) would be chosen as his replacement by the grassroots members. Menzies Campbell (64) might be an alternative safe pair of hands. Mark Oaten (41) would probably be the Orange Book Liberals’ ideal candidate today although they might be better waiting for Nick Clegg to put his name forward in four years’ time. He really does have Cameron-like star quality.
Kennedy staying wouldn’t be a bad option for the Tories given all of the reasons stated above. The best option would be a Hughes leadership as he would undoubtedly take the party leftwards and scare heartland England voters. The election of an Oaten-like figure might present possibilities, too, however. The Hughes faction would find such a leadership difficult to swallow and the LibDem coalition might fracture. The intelligent and statesmanlike image of Menzies Campbell – although, perhaps, a little old – is the interim leader that could present us with the greatest challenge.