News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Lib Dems demand resignations

...but can't agree who should resign. They are all sure of one thing; someone is to blame for their catostrophic results in Thursday's election. Let the finger pointing commence.

In Wales, the Lib Dems failed to make any progress, trailing in fourth place with six seats in the Assembly. The leader, Mike German, issued a joint statement with the chairman of the Welsh Lib Dems stating that there had been preliminary talks, but that they should be held in private rather than by megaphone. Quite how that sits with them being called democrats is anyone's guess - surely everyone should discussions should be open and transparent, not secretive and begind closed doors. Feuding AMs and council leaders were quick to ignore their leaders though. Peter Black AM rejected any deal with Labour and called on Mike German to resign as leader. Kirsty Williams, seen as Mr German's most likely successor, responded by saying that a change of leadership was not a priority. Hardly a ringing endorsement - it leaves three different opinions from three different AMs. Not to be left out of the argument, Eleanor Burnham AM called Mr Black "irresponsible". So Mike German was ignored by three of his five colleagues, and none of them agree with each other.

It seems to be contagious, as council leaders wanted a piece of the action as well. Four of them have already gone on record to oppose a deal with Labour. A fifth, Cllr Rodney Berman of Cardiff City Council, rejected calls for Mr German's resignation were not helpful. Again, not a ringing endorsement, just more disagreement within the ranks.

Meanwhile, in Westminster there is talk of a plot against the beleaguered Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell facing a challenge to his leadership. Supporters of Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne have both been sharpening their knives. Huhnies were particularly quick to point out that in his Eastleigh constituency the Lib Dems had bucked the national trend and gained seats.

Meanwile, Susan Kramer's "support" for Ming on GMTV will not have helped him to sleep any easier. Iain Dale reports her comments as follows:

Susan Kramer: Ming of all things is a person of absolute integrity and I think he’s also harder on himself than almost any outsider would be. I mean, this is not a man who has flexible standards and I think if he felt that he wasn’t taking the party in the direction it needed to go, that if he didn’t see those changes happening, you know, internally, in the policy area, that had to be in place, he might well make that decision, but I think most of us looking at him basically would say ‘Ming, stick with it. This is not the time for revolving door politics, not the time to choose your leader by focus group, or how they look in a shop window. This is a time to choose your leader by their real qualities of integrity, determination, statesmanship, intelligence and a vision of taking Britain forward. I really do think that matters the most.
So, in a nutshell, she thinks that his integrity will lead him to resign if he is unable to take the party in the right direction. I assume that losing more than 10% of their councillors, dropping in the popular vote, losing ground in Scotland and remaining an irrelevant force in Wales might not be the direction in which most Lib Dems would want Ming to lead the party! Having said that, Mark Oaten showed that they gain pleasure in bizarre ways, so maybe electoral disaster is Kramer's idea of good fun!

In Scotland, Ming Campbell is said to have over-ruled the local leadership and blocked any possible deal with the SNP. In public, the reason for their refusal to do a deal is that the SNP are demanding a referendum on independence as part of any deal. The SNP have been quick to point out that they are prepared to come to the negotiating table without any preconditions. The real reason that the Lib Dems won't play ball may have something to do with the cosy personal relationship between Ming and Gordon Brown, who has already made clear that he won't cooperate with a nationalist-led Parliament. Ming has previously set out some key tests for Brown - if these are met, he plans to prop up a Brown led Lib-Lab coalition in the event of a hung parliament at Westminster.

Meanwhile, here in Shepway I understand that some Lib Dem councillors are looking for a fall guy to carry the can for their collapse. Of course, we all know that Beaumont and co are past masters of the finger pointing. When they raised tax by 39%, were capped, closed the toilets, cut back on street cleaning and stopped cutting the grass, the fingers variably pointed at either the Labour government or the previous Conservative administration. When that failed, they ousted Linda Cufley and the rest of their leadership. Apparently this small group had forced the rest of the Lib Dems to support these ridiculous schemes. Of course, it wasn't part of a master plan to undermine the financial competence of the Tories in Michael Howard's back yard at a time when he was Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. Peter Carroll, their then PPC and now councillor and lover of new leader Beaumont, never had any involvement in the decision making process. And perish the thought that any faxes may have been sent from the Cowley Street HQ to "persuade" Linda Cufley of the advantages of going along with the Lib Dem plan.

Well, just when you think they must have run out of fingers to point, another one comes along. Anne Boleyn was accused of being a witch because she had six fingers on one hand. Lynne Beaumont is known by her colleagues (behind her back of course) as "The Bitch", so there's a clear resemblence. This time the finger of blame is pointing at PPC Toby Philpott, I understand. Of course, until he came along in November, everything was going swimmingly. They had lost so many councillors through defections and by-elections that Shepway was controlled by a Conservative minority who easily outnumbered the previous Lib Dem majority administration. In Hythe, they had gone from 14 out of 16 seats to losing overall control! Even in the Lib Dem stronhold of Folkestone, they reached a low point with only one councillor on the Town Council.

It's hard to see how Toby can be blamed really, when it's clear that the Lib Dems problems stem from a time before he was on the scene. The last election in Shepway was the Cheriton by-election, in which the Chairman of the Lib Dems won with 504 votes (42%). This time, he took 673 votes, with the Lib Dems on 46%. In Folkestone Harvey Central, the Conservative majority over the Lib Dem was sliced to just 21 votes. That compares to the 2005 by-election, when the Lib Dems fell to third behind Labour, almost 300 votes behind the same Conservative candidate!

As a Tory, I can't say that I'm concerned either way whether Toby stays or goes. The local Conservative Campaign team will be equally happy fighting Toby, Beaumont, Carroll or whoever else they may care to throw at us. It does seem rather unreasonable to try to pin the blame for all this on to the newcomer though, and I think that he'll feel rather abused. So may the membership, who backed Toby over the leading cabal's preferred candidate, the "fragrant" Lynne Beaumont. I can't say that I'd blame him if he did resign though - when you can't trust the people who are supposedly there to support you, how can you mount a serious election campaign? I would have thought that responsibility for the lacklustre results should lie with either the Group Leader or the Chairman, who between them are responsible for policy and campaigning. Perhaps that's just too logical for the Lib Dem leadership to grasp though.

All in all, the Lib Dems across the country have one thing in common - they all want someone to carry the blame for their disasterous results last Thursday. If only they could agree who....


Joe Otten said...


With idle speculation of this standard, you should write for the newspapers.

Dan Hassett said...

Idle speculation it is not - as you will see next week.

Jae said...

I wondered who'd spotted my post. he he..

Of course my post WAS idle speculation from up here in Greenwich so I wouldn't really use it to back up your assertions!

Dan Hassett said...

Don't worry Jae, I'm not relying on your post completely! All will become clear towards the end of next week.