BBC NewsAndrew Marr Show


Last Updated: Sunday, 27 January 2008, 09:51 GMT
Ming moves on
On Sunday 27 January Andrew Marr interviewed Menzies Campbell MP

The former Lib Dem leader on leadership, ageism - and what is next.

Menzies Campbell MP
Menzies Campbell MP

ANDREW MARR: Now then, Sir Menzies Campbell, unlike many at Westminster, did have a distinguished career before politics. He was an Olympic winner, top barrister, formidable speaker, and a foreign affairs specialist.

And many at Westminster muttered that the Lib Dems would be a lot better off with a man of his stature at the helm. And yet when he got that top job it all went horribly wrong.

Some poor initial performances at PMQs (Prime Ministers Questions), poll ratings diving, just as the Tories were on the up, and constant media sniping that he was bit too old.

At the last national conference he said "I'm proud of my age and my experience and I'm staying", but within weeks he'd gone. Was he flung from the battlements or did he jump?

Well until now Sir Ming has said very little about this but he does join me now. Welcome, thank you for coming in.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Thank you very much.

ANDREW MARR: Let's I suppose start with that. Were you pushed or did you jump?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: I decided that the interests of the party demanded that I should go because once Gordon Brown decided to cancel the election, putting an end to all that speculation which he'd allowed to build up, then it was clear that questions about leadership were going to continue to get in the way of the progress of the party.

I took the decision. Of course there were a number of issues that I took account of but it was my decision because I believed it was the right thing to do.

ANDREW MARR: Did you think that Liberal Democrat MPs gave you the support you deserved?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: There's always mutterings about leadership. I remember Paddy Ashdown, David Steel, Charles Kennedy, Jeremy Thorpe to go even further back, there's always mutterings about leadership.

ANDREW MARR: That sounds like no, but then they never have.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: What I say is this, that people set high standards and that's as it should be. But I think what you have to be careful about is that if you, if there's too much vocal public expression then all you do is you feed what may be preconceptions elsewhere in the party, and also of course in the media. And there was a preconception about my age.

ANDREW MARR: Yes. And were MPs coming to you and saying that?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: No, they weren't.

ANDREW MARR: But they were meeting behind the scenes weren't they?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: I don't know about that, but what I know is that from time to time just when it seemed to me that we were beginning to make progress then some other unattributed quotation would appear.

ANDREW MARR: Would appear. Now, you took the decision, you flew down from Scotland for another week's work and you sat down there in your office and you looked at the newspapers and so on and you thought "right, I'm going to go". Why was it that moment, and was it the papers in particular that made you take that decision?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: We had about, I think, ten or twelve days of articles which all raised this question of age. It was the backwash to Gordon Brown's decision not to proceed with an election. And I asked myself "can I trade out of this" and I asked some of the most senior people who've been my supporters and advisors "can I trade out of this?" and they said "yes it's possible, but you may not be able to do so" And I thought that it was in my responsibility to make sure that I gave the party the best possible chance at the next General Election, and the best way for that was for me to go in my own time and on my own terms.

ANDREW MARR: Did you think the media campaign was cruel, unfair?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Yeah. And I'll tell you what it was. It was a sort of cliché-ridden, I mean some of the cartoons - if I had a fiver for every time someone gave me a zimmer than I'd be a very rich man indeed. And that's one of the things which I think, a few months one is entitled now to be a bit more objective about it.

But these clichés which get turned out all the time, I mean to keep talking about the Republican nomination, John McCain may well succeed to the Republican nomination. Age isn't the issue, the issue is capacity, ability. And I had three things in mind when I became leader. First was to restore the morale of the party and to regain its sense of purpose after Charles Kennedy's resignation, and indeed the leadership campaign itself which you may remember had the odd colourful moment.

To make sure that the party was ready for a General Election whenever that might be called, and of course to try and professionalise the party, to make it much more up-to-date, to make it much more fit for 24 hour a day news, which at the moment it isn't. There are too many alternative power sources in our party. And one of the things which I learned very quickly is that the leader of the party, the opposite of the harlot, has the responsibility but not the power.

ANDREW MARR: It sounds very much as if you felt that despite all the figures you were doing, if the press, if the media, because it wasn't just the press, had decided that you were too old and you had to go, there was nothing you could do about that. They were stronger than you were?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: I used to say that if I stood on my head reciting Shakespeare in Parliament Square it wouldn't make the slightest bit of difference. And as I say there were all these clichés.

A female journalist, herself not unknown to the headlines, came all the way to Cheltenham during the leadership election to ask me how I kept my socks up! I mean this dealing in trivia related to some kind of perception about my age, so I am what I am, as you very generously pointed out, I've had other lives - international athlete, barrister advocate in Scotland, 20 years in politics - don't change yourself.

And indeed the people who do try to change themselves are the ones who strike the most false of notes.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm. And yet when you started in the House of Commons, PMQs and so on, you did have a few misfires and so on. People were waiting to jump on you.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: It's very, very difficult.


MENZIES CAMPBELL: There's no doubt about that, and I mean Vince Cable was brilliant.

ANDREW MARR: But he was like downhill skiing, you know, exhilarating but if you make a mess of it you get whacked.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: It's very difficult and if there's a clever heckle, and there's some clever hecklers about, then that can be very disconcerting.

But I did a lot of work on improving my performance and indeed by the end I think I was entitled to say I'd improved very considerably and I was doing the job very competently. But we, in order to get there, we did a lot of detailed work, a lot of rehearsal, a lot of preparation.


MENZIES CAMPBELL: And a lot of simulated Question Times, as it happens.

ANDREW MARR: Yes, but it was too late by then wasn't it? Those opening minutes were.....

MENZIES CAMPBELL: No, it wasn't too late because if we'd had a General Election in October...

ANDREW MARR: Things would have been different.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Then things would have been quite different. And that's my sense of irritation and frustration, that I didn't get the opportunity to show just how much I had changed the party, and just how important Liberal Democrat values are.

ANDREW MARR: Did you ever talk to Gordon Brown about possibly working with him in government after an election?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well Gordon Brown's a friend of mine, as you know, and from time to time we meet on the shuttle backwards and forwards to Edinburgh. But we did not have the kind of detailed discussions that were always being attributed to us.

And of course, as you know, there was an occasion when he asked me to go and see him and we talked about senior Liberal Democrats being advisors to the Government, something to which I had no objection as long as they were not just there as a kind of effort, a kind of tokenism, and there was some prospect that what they recommended would be put into operation.

I also told them that we wouldn't oppose things on a sort of routine visceral basis. And then of course there's the question of Liberal Democrats becoming Ministers and that was something to which I said no.

ANDREW MARR: Yeah. And yet we're now at another stage where people are talking about constitution and constitutional reform. It's all coming back round again. Can you see a potential deal to be done with either of the other parties, that Liberal Democrats could embrace?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well I don't like the word "deal", I mean let me put it this way. I always said that the things which, the principles which would drive me would be what was in the interest of the country, and then what was in the interests of the party. And it was not about seats in the Cabinet, it wasn't about ministerial motor cars or things of that kind.

It was about policy, and of course if we're talking as you have done about constitutional change there is a fundamental constitutional change in this country which I believe is absolutely essential, and that is the reform of the electoral system. So constitutional change that Tony Blair from time to time paid lip service to, but he was never willing to embrace.

ANDREW MARR: Nick Clegg was a supporter of yours, I think you're a supporter of his?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well I voted for him, I mean during the campaign I kept my mouth shut because I thought that was my responsibility not to be seen to influence the campaign in any way. But I voted for him.

ANDREW MARR: So, pleased to see him there. Nonetheless, is it true that he could, if the circumstances warranted it, do a deal, go into government alongside the Conservatives in a way that perhaps you couldn't?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: You asked him that question last week and I thought if I may say so he answered it pretty well. It's an issue about policies, it's not an issue about doing deals, it's not an issue about promoting the interests of the Liberal Democrats beyond the interests of the citizens of this country.

What I say, and what I'm sure is Nick Clegg's view too, is that this country is in need of Liberal Democrat values, perhaps more than ever, an authoritarian government, authoritarian to a degree no one would have anticipated on that bright May morning in 1997. And a Conservative party which still hasn't lost its hang-ups about Europe or things of that kind. In those circumstances there never was a greater need for liberal democracy than there is now.

ANDREW MARR: Well, if we talk about values, I mean you mention authoritarianism, decentralisation, wanting to push a bit of power back to the citizens and so on. It's just that at the moment David Cameron is starting to sound a little bit more like somebody who has some of those values perhaps, than any Conservative leader in living memory.

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Yeah, but at the same time he's got the Eurosceptics in his party determined to spend the next three or four weeks examining their navels. I mean a great deal simply hasn't changed in the Tory party.

It's very interesting you talk about devolution because of course I appointed Norman Lamb to be the health spokesman and David Laws to be the education spokesman, and these are issues you discussed with Nick Clegg last week. The whole point being that we have to allow, or ensure, that these great public services are much more influenced by the needs of individual citizens than they are driven by the bureaucrats of central government.

ANDREW MARR: And what about your own future: are you going to stand at the next election?


ANDREW MARR: You are - are you going to, would you like to go back onto the front bench in due course?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: Well, Nick Clegg made it clear, and it chimes entirely with my own view, that there shouldn't be a place for me in the Shadow Cabinet at the moment. But I always point out that Mr. William Hague has made a famous return and who knows, that might happen.

I've just become a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, I'm looking forward to that. I've got a book coming out, I will not tell you the date in case I'm thought to plug it unnecessarily. I'm going to do a little legal work in the parliamentary recess, there's plenty to do.

ANDREW MARR: Plenty to do. I gather that Paddy Ashdown is not now going to Kabul, does that disappoint and surprise you?

MENZIES CAMPBELL: No, I was one of those who spent some time trying to persuade him that perhaps it wasn't something he should take up. I think the prospects of success are really quite limited, I think there were very difficult questions about the extent to which the Americans would be willing to give him the kind of powers which he enjoyed with such enormous success in Sarajevo and of course if he doesn't appear to command political support across the spectrum in Afghanistan then the chances of being successful are very much reduced. I think his wife will not be disappointed.

ANDREW MARR: Sir Ming, it's been wonderful to have you. I hope in your busy future life you're able to come and join us again. But for now, thank you very much indeed.


Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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