Amidst all the discussion of Charles Kennedy’s removal as Liberal Democrat leader in recent days, little has been said about the campaign to force his resignation.
On the one hand, it was a triumphantly successful whispering campaign. Triumphant in that it achieved its objective whilst largely concealing the identities of the assassins (because there were so many: ‘et tu Brute’). Ever since the anticipated departure was leaked to Andrew Neil’s late night political programme before Christmas, the pressure had been mounting on Kennedy. In the event, it became a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Yet two dangers remain. One is of a backlash by party members (who should have a vote for Kennedy’s successor) against the conspirators. If the favourite (Menzies Campbell) becomes implicated in the plot, then there will surely be a swing against him.
The other is a reaction by the electorate at large. The appeal of the Liberal Democrats has largely been that they’re not Labour and not the Conservatives; unsullied by national power, they have been seen as a principled, even ‘nice’, party. This act of ruthlessness sends a confusing signal and they are sure to suffer in the polls.
In a few years time, I predict that Charles Kennedy will be held in rather higher esteem.