Monday, March 05, 2007

Whatever Happened to the Lib Dems?

The short answer, of course, is Menzies Campbell. For those of you who are American and/or averse to BBC News 24 (I imagine the red-drenched colour scheme must be a little annoying for the colourblind) it is worth noting that "Menzies" is pronounced "Mingis", and that surprisingly few people have done the Minger Campbell joke, at least compared to the Ming The Merciless one.

This, believe it or not, is the biggest problem with Campbell as a Lib Dem leader and as a potential Prime Minister: the generation gap. Those of us old enough to remember Dan Dare tend to think he's a self-serving power-grabber in the Old Tory mould, directly responsible for Charles Kennedy's ousting: Merciless indeed. Those with fewer years on the clock (to the extent that they wouldn't accidentally pronounce minger to rhyme with ninja) don't care enough even to take the piss out of him, presumably as he appears to be quite near death from the point of view of a Callow Youth. It didn't surprise me that most voters want Kennedy back, nor that he has been kept largely out of the public spotlight by his leader since he was readmitted to the party (another note for Americans: Kennedy was forced to resign when several of his colleagues "objected" in a letter to his alcoholism, an objection which anybody with an ounce of sense recognised as a threat to go to the press with it).

It's a cliche of modern politics that the older vote conservative and the young vote whatever-else-there-is-available but one doesn't normally associate the classic political techniques of those persuasions with age: Ming has exhibited some distinctly Tory tendencies this week, by saying and doing the kind of things the younger, friendlier, more Liberal Kennedy wouldn't. An example: in the same week that Ming berated those who keep criticising him for being too old for the job of PM at 65, he went out of his way to slag off David Cameron for being too young - knowing full well that the voters don't really care about that half as much as politicians do. This is the kind of childish nonsense you expected in the Thatcher era: nowadays it seems out of place, particularly when both the Tories and Labour present such a plethora of real political failings from which to make hay.

I rather like David Cameron, actually. He goes on far too much about families (which bodes poorly for those single taxpayers who are forced to stump up the cash to support them) and he seems to be having problems persuading the rest of the party to follow his lead, but he bears a curious resemblance to Trevor Parks, the Lib Dem Prime Minister from my novel Living Things - a figure I created purely to exorcise my own annoyances about the way politics is done. Funny that Cameron is turning into a better liberal and a better democrat than the actual Liberal Democrats. The problem - at least for Ming - is that most of us who have actual votes to play with no longer have the brand loyalty that previous generations did: we don't really care what colour the next PM wears so long as he has some good ideas and doesn't talk down to us. Cameron, perhaps worryingly for a Conservative, has the edge right now.

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