Friday, January 27, 2006

Crisis, what crisis?

OK so there is now an internet poll (pah!) suggesting an actual slippage in Lib Dem support. It would be nice to put this down to the press hyping up a crisis out of normal politics. Nice, but self-indulgent.

While I agree with these reasons to be cheerful and I find a leadership contest great fun, it might not pay to carry on regardless.

Charles Kennedy had massive personal popular support. It would be incredible if the loss of the man did not lose the party some support. We should count this as a low point even if the polls are steady. Crises can be good, so let us not deny the crisis when we could be planning the recovery.

The Conservative Party was in crisis from Black Wednesday until the coronation of Michael Howard. If one attributes Major's premiership to Thatcher's stifling of dissenting talent, we see a picture of one badly needed assassination, leading to a decade of crisis, ending in another assassination. Howard finally put the Tories back on the offensive, and did as well as could be expected.

So melodrama demands that a similar script may be applied to the Lib Dems. Each political assassination is different, but similarities drive narratives. Thatcher, IDS, John Swinney, which script should we point to? And what of the assassination most needed in recent times and most obvious by its absence? Tony Blair, remember, took the country to war on a lie, briefed against a dead scientist, and looked for a while very vulnerable. If there was ever a time when honour demanded resignation, and a party had a moral duty to rebel, this was it. Doubtless there was a deal with Brown to give the arch-meddler more control of domestic policy and a clear run 5 years later. Assassination victims rarely know that the time has come; this is Brown's failure even more than Blair's.

The Tories have bounced back since the days of IDS. Why? Because they have been credible, optimistic, and have gone on the offensive. And that is what we are doing, and what we will do under a new leader. This is our recovery, believe it, and act like you believe it. The Tories' decade of crisis was their of own making with a string of terrible choices for leader and persistent in-fighting. The press were their enemies, they were right to test them, to question their credibility, to hype up their faults and thereby make those faults more real. The press will test us too, as they should test any party. But we will not whinge about it, we will raise our game. We will elect a credible and optimistic leader and be united.

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