Monday, 22 October 2007

Age need not be a 'cloying blanket'

Just a week after Ming Campbell's resignation as Liberal Democrat leader, its interesting to see Senator John McCain 'winning' Sunday's Republican Presidential nomination debate.

Part of McCain's appeal was what Washington Post correspondent Chris Cillizza calls 'his trademark wit'. And the target of this wit? Why, it was Mr McCain himself, 'poking fun at his advanced age in a question on Social Security'.

Mr McCain was 71 years old on 29 August, almost 5 years older than Mr Campbell. Which just goes to show that the issue of one's age, treated in the right way, need not be the 'cloying blanket' that Mr Campbell found it.

Two years ago, as Lib Dem Foreign Affairs shadow, Ming Campbell added considerable ballast to a little known front bench, and widened the party's appeal among the political intelligentsia; as leader, and thus the public personification of the party, he added mainly jokes - and not ones made by him at his own expense. One popular satirical show compared his role in a recent Brown-Cameron spat to that of Grandpa from The Simpsons.

Sadly this sort of thing is what the vast majority of ordinary non-political people will remember, and it will be difficult to undo the damage to his reputation, even if he returns to his former role, which I rather doubt he will.

I'm afraid the whole episode of Ming's leadership does reflect rather badly on the political judgement of all those who supported the idea of putting him in the 'figurehead' position in the first place (including many Lib Dem MPs). Whatever leadership skills his supporters claim he has demonstrated over organising the Lib Dems internally, his reign has been a disaster for the party in terms of its popular appeal. I always believed (and argued in another forum at the time) that he was unsuited for the role of appealing to the general public at large.

At least he was honourable enough to recognise others' mistake, and go before he was pushed. Liberal Democrats now need to elect a leader capable of appealing to a wider public.

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