On Wednesday 19 July Liberal Democrats leader Sir Menzies Campbell faced a specially selected Newsnight audience to discuss his vision for the party, his leadership and his record so far. So what did the audience think? Some of them sent us their views of Sir Menzies' performance.
I was impressed by him. His decency and kind of political righteousness was exuding and marks him well apart from Blair and Cameron. Just on this performance I feel he deserves a chance and I will vote for him. Nearer election time will he build a team around him as good I wonder?
He came across more personable than reported in the media and gave a good account of himself especially against the criticism of his age and passion for his policies.
I have always voted Liberal with the vain hope that one day proportional representation will become a reality. As a leader Campbell needs to give priority to learning the media tricks to get the attention first, and only then will all his other qualities make any impression on the electorate. Media is King now - can't beat them so join them!
I was impressed by his performance. He was almost certainly stung by the personal criticism but he dealt with it head-on. He actually answered all the questions he was asked, there was no attempt by him to avoid awkward areas or divert the conversation. Overall he came over, as ever, with integrity and honesty. He did come to the green room afterwards, where he was extremely friendly and approachable. He was still unwilling to talk about the possibility of a coalition however, even off screen. Sir Menzies Campbell is a much stronger politician than he is allowed to appear in the House of Commons where, rather like Charles Kennedy, he is somewhat patronised.
Sir Menzies is everything you could wish for in a grandfather but I remain unconvinced he should be leading a major political party in the 21st century. With the exception of his proposal to abandon the 50% tax on the rich, I agree with the party's main policies, but feel they would be better coming from a younger, more street-wise champion of individual freedoms.
I was disappointed to hear his response to the Newsnight poll putting Charles Kennedy ahead of him. I thought that he was rather na´ve in his opening statement to say - I've only been in the job a few months - and to give him more time for people to judge. As a leader of a political party his performance and style is being assessed all the time, more so when he has just taken up the role as the leader. I felt the poll not only reflected the lack of impact he has made within his own party but also with the undecided voter. A challenge to the policy of returning low level offenders back into the community was not answered - choosing to focus instead on how they would ensure serious offenders stayed in prison longer. On the other hand he did display some of the passion he had been lacking when answering questions on the environment and taxation - though perhaps this was a reaction to the direct challenges put before him. In the Green Room afterwards he chatted about proportional representation and one or two other points relating to the programme. He insisted that PR remained a cornerstone of Lib Dem policy and also reiterated that fact he had an opportunity to become a judge instead opting for the political career. Overall though I wasn't convinced and did not feel that on this performance I would be ready to vote for the Lib Dems.
I was impressed by Sir Menzies' performance, but I am a keen supporter and had intended to vote Lib Dem in any case. However, while some take kindly to Sir Menzies' cold intellectualism, the issue on which he failed to convince is his ability to wage a 21st century campaign. With much of today's campaigning dependent on style and flair, a candidate needs a truly inspirational bearing to attract new voters. Can Sir Menzies really compete with the likes of Blair and Cameron in this department? I remain unconvinced, and the statistics supporting Charles Kennedy over the current leader is telling; for all his failings, Kennedy was a beloved figure, and Sir Menzies needs to engage the swing vote as much as his predecessor. After the show, another audience member emphasised the need for "soundbites", and I think this could not be more true: Sir Menzies needs more stage presence to erode the other parties' power base, as at present it seems that only those willing to devote time to the issues (ie the young and politically active) are likely to vote in his favour, and those outside this demographic would probably find the easy performances of Labour or the Conservative party more attractive. In short, the gloves must come off and must come off soon.
Sir Menzies' performance was a credible one. The passion and charisma, which he so often lacks in PMQs, came out as he begun to feel more at ease. However, I felt that he fails to realise the supreme bargaining position a hung Parliament could give the party. It could provide the opportunity to get policies such as proportional representation through Parliament. As such, voters are keen to know which party the Liberal Democrats would be most likely to align themselves with in that situation.
Sir Menzies was persuasive in policy terms. However, the Liberal Democrats must do more to get their policies out to people. A large part of this relies on having a strong, passionate leader who can communicate policy succinctly. Much work is required here in order to present the real alternative in British politics.
The passion Sir Menzies has for politics is much more apparent in reality when compared to his television presence. Having always agreed with most Lib Dem policy but lacking confidence in their strength as a party, in my eyes Sir Menzies represented himself and his party well. He has persuaded me to think again about considering the Liberal Democrats as a real and viable political force in British politics. The chances are I will probably vote liberal in the next election - but it DID take a Newsnight special and a real-life meeting to persuade me.