But would a new leader pose a bigger threat to Brown’s ambitions?
With the change-over in the Tory leadership being the catalyst for the January 2006 departure of the last Lib Dem leader, Charles Kennedy, could the arrival of a new Labour leader have the same effect on Ming?
For the reverberations from Monday’s offer to Ming of ministerial places for Lib Dems are continuing to dominate the political headlines and any change in the line-up of party leaders can have a huge impact on the political environment.
This is how the Independent is reporting it this morning: “Senior Liberal Democrats, including some of the party’s young high fliers, reacted with horror and fury to the news, which dominated two meetings of MPs yesterday..They protested that a clique of “elderly Scots” – including Sir Menzies and one of his closest aides, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope – had got too close to Mr Brown and the Scottish Labour establishment. One said: “This report has the distinct ring of truth. Amongst all the smoke there is definitely fire.” Another warned: “We are steaming about it.”
Clearly party leaders do have private discussions and other things apart from the Brown offer were discussed at Monday’s meeting.
- But what was always going to be problematic is the inevitable unease, reinforced by the proximity of their constituencies, that Ming and Gordon are just are too close.
All this was not helped by the way Ming’s Harrogate speech in March was reported. The idea that a coalition deal with Labour was possible but not one with the Tories ran so against the way third party leaders have traditionally positioned themselves. There are many LDs who are ready to believe that there will be a sell-out
Ingrained in the memory is what Paddy Ashdown did in the 1997-1999 period when he had secret talks with Tony Blair on a coalition. Ashdown mis-judged his party then and that makes it even more difficult for Ming now.
But what of Gordon Brown? Has he thought through what he is doing? The last thing he wants surely is to precipitate a situation that causes the Lib Dems to be led by a younger, more dynamic leader who could pose a bigger threat?
As I have repeatedly argued here the critical battle-grounds at the next election will be around the Lib Dems. They will be striving to defend seats from a resurgent Tory party and their main targets will be a number which are currently Labour held.
The forthcoming Ealing Southall by-election, where the Lib Dems came second to Labour in 2005, could provide an interesting test for the new Brown government. I would not rule out a Lib Dem victory.
The 1/5 the Labrokes are offering on Ming being the frirst leader to go is starting to look tempting.
UPDATE 0725. Paddy Ashdown told Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that Gordon Brown has “offered him a cabinet job” but has not accepted because of Ming Campbell’s opposition.