Ming Campbell's call for a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU was clearly designed to be a political masterstroke, so how did it go so wrong?
Sir Ming has previously ruled out a vote on the EU Constitution despite promising one just 2 years earlier. He then suffered ridicule from the press and, more damagingly, his own side via the blogosphere. Then days later, Sir Ming aimed to trumpt his critics by calling for a vote on the whole question of Britain's EU membership. Instead of declaring this a brilliant act of democracy, the collective political wisdom of the nation stumbled backwards, stratched its head and said "what?!?"
The LibDems don't have a problem with Britain's membership of the EU - why call a referendum and then campaign for a "yes" vote? Doesn't this just give fuel to the UKIPers around the place?
But the biggest problem is this. I would probably (though not certainly) vote to saty in the EU but to reject the constitution. So what would I do in the LibDem referendum? If I voted "yes" it would seem as if I were backing the constitution, but if I voted "no" it would say I wanted to pull out of the EU.
This policy is so muddled, and so stupid, that it failed to achieve any of his objectives and just reinforced how shaky his leadership really is. This was badly thought through knee-jerk reaction - the kind we in the Tories were used to seeing under IDS. It looked good for five and a half seconds and then the reality of this latest rushed-policy sinks in.
Campbell, and by extension the LibDems, now have no credibility on this at all. I know some LibDems are tearing up their membership cards, others are openly calling on him to resign. If their parliamentary party could be ruthless with Kennedy, why aren't they showing more guts when it comes to useless old buffer Sir Ming?