I shan’t pretend I’m in the least bit bothered about the woes that the LibDems have found themselves in during the past 24 hours but two things do spring forth of note worthiness.
Firstly are the similarities to the IDS Tory debacle. I found myself musing this morning about who exactly is spreading the rumours about Kennedy, particularly to Neill of the BBC. Today Party bigwigs Matthew Taylor and Paul Holmes have strongly come out in Kennedy’s defence, as have senior LibDem frontbencher Lembit Opik. So just who is spreading the rumours? Well, with the Tories I naively thought that the media had got their wires crossed and a few private mumblings of a few obscure Tory MPs made it onto the front-page, but of course it wasn’t. The finger of suspicion has pointed at the swivel-eyed loon of the LibDems Party President Simon Hughes and also the statesmanlike Foreign Affairs Spokesman (not, not Shadow Cabinet as they like to claim) Sir Menzies Campbell. So will they use this chance to come out and back their man? Because Charlie can’t take many more PMQs like that.
My other thought is about where this leaves the LibDems as a party. I’m not joining in the Tory gleeful rubbing of hands over this because I think it could be a worrying sign. Not of a Kennedy departure, but that the LibDems have come to maturity as a political party. All the best parties are big-tents who bring in people of various political viewpoints who can agree an end product but not necessarily the same means to will it to happen. The Tory Party contains Bill Cash and Ken Clarke. Labour has Dennis Skinner and Peter Mandelson. Enough said. Whilst the LibDems sat on the sidelines being irrelevant – which to a degree they did rather well under Ashdown – then nobody bothered mentioning that they all fundamentally disagree over absolutely everything. Now there’s a wiff of something in the air – not power, don’t be silly, but a chance of a seat in a coalition government. After years of Tory-bashing the rather dapper Vince Cable has started mending bridges by saying he could work with the Conservatives – just in case Cameron has the largest number of seats in 2009. If not, they could always throw their lot in with Labour – under Brown or another Blairite Leader. With the next poll result in serious doubt the LibDems are players. If Cameron crashes and burns or if he takes a commanding lead then the LibDems may well slink away to the fringes again. If not, this argument is important because they are fighting for the soul of the party and maybe even the soul of the next government. If Laws and the Orange Book Liberals win it raises the prospect of a Con-Lib coalition working effectively. If Hughes or Davey win then a coalition is only likely with Labour. Either way the LibDems need this leadership crisis badly, because an attempt to go into coalition under Kennedy (or in my view under Campbell) would be a disaster. It may never happen, but this crisis is in many ways good for the party and a clear sign that they may well help form the next period of British politics.