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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 14:10 GMT
Ming warns of tough choices ahead
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News Website

As victory rallies go, Ming Campbell's party gathering in Harrogate certainly lacked some of the glitz, pazazz and showbiz we have come to expect from our political parties.

Ming Campbell

The atmosphere in the snow-covered conference hall was as pinstriped, proper and upright as the party's new leader.

No more of the relaxed Charles Kennedy style, with witty quips about "it's all downhill from here".

And no trendy-yet-always-embarrassing pop music rattling the rafters each time a spokesman took to the stage.


In any case, a good blast of brass band marching music would have seemed more appropriate for Ming.

No, Sir Menzies Campbell was here to stiffen the spines of his troops, and there was a distinct whiff of good old-fashioned discipline, and the sound of whips being cracked, in the air.

To maintain our credibility as the only truly liberal force in British politics, will also require changes in the way we organise ourselves
Ming Campbell

If he told his party once during the weekend that they needed to get professional and take some hard decisions, he told them a dozen times.

The implication they have previously been a bunch of amiable amateurs was there for everyone to read if they chose to.


Ming couldn't do roll-neck sweaters and loafers if he wanted to - and he most certainly doesn't want to.

He's not a fan of open neck shirts either, as he kept saying, preferring open minds.

So at the end of a three-day conference which saw delegates backing part-privatisation of the post office - a symbolic move towards economic liberalism perhaps - and lots of talk about uniting and keeping up the momentum, Ming finished it off with another warning.

He said: "To maintain our credibility as the only truly liberal force in British politics, will also require changes in the way we organise ourselves.

"We have just had the most successful general election for over eighty years. We must build on that success - as we become more successful, so too we must become more professional."

He added: "We are moving out of the comfort zone of opposition politics. We must make three party politics a credible reality. "Opposing is not enough, our policies have to be fit for government."

There were indications in his speech about how he planned to do that - fair taxation, reform of the EU, devolution and greater localism being some of the bullet points.

But much of the detail must still await the outcome of the policy reviews over the next six months.

He was, however, struggling to be heard in the wider world over the cacophony created by the Tessa Jowell affair and even Tony Blair's admission of awaiting God's verdict on his premiership.

That may not really have mattered. This gathering was all about the Liberal Democrats talking to themselves - but in a good way.

Ming dynasty?

There is still a bit of recovery needed in the wake of the bloody removal of Charles Kennedy and the revelations over the sexuality of Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes.

That process was made very much easier by the Dunfermline by-election sensation - and for once that is the right word.

And there is also a need for the party to get a firm grip on precisely where their new leader will take them.

They were left in no doubt that Sir Menzies aims to bring the weight, seniority, experience and respect to the party that, presumably, led members to vote for him.

What nobody yet knows is whether a new Ming dynasty is emerging that will lead this party to new heights or whether the next election will see another return to the old squeeze that has finished off previous hopes.

Broad themes mark Campbell debut
03 Mar 06 |  Politics
Profile: Sir Menzies Campbell
02 Mar 06 |  Politics
Ming the King pledges change
02 Mar 06 |  Politics


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