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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 March 2006, 14:14 GMT
Ming stays cool in the snow
Analysis
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter

Sir Menzies Campbell in Harrogate
Sir Menzies won the leadership in a ballot of the whole party

He didn't flinch. He didn't stumble.

Sir Menzies Campbell has proved what his supporters have always known - that he can remain calm under fire.

On his first walkabout as party leader, the former Olympic runner kept his footing amid the treacherous ice fields of Harrogate town centre.

Even finding time to venture a joke about the issue that dominated his campaign ("Do you think there are any concessions for senior citizens?" he asked local MP Phil Willis as they boarded a bus).

But more importantly, when the first of the inevitable snowballs sailed over the heads of the media scrum to land squarely on his back he simply ploughed on regardless. Very statesmanlike.

Reports Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne were spotted running from the scene remain unconfirmed.

The real culprits - that perennial bugbear of the politician on a walkabout - "local youths" were distinctly unimpressed by the interloper.

Opinion was divided about whether the party had picked the right man

Most young people in the town centre on Saturday had never heard of him.

"It's Morgan isn't it? Mr Morgan", said one young lad, when asked about the identity of the man at the centre of the media scrum.

"I didn't know he was the leader. I only know about Tony Blair".

"It's Ming Whatshisname", another teenager offered, between bites of his sandwich.

The recognition factor was higher among older residents.

George Disney ("I am a distant cousin of Walt Disney") was delighted to meet the new leader.

The 78-year-old said: "I am very pleased he won the election. He is a man of experience and character. He has a good background."

But opinion was divided about whether the party had picked the right man.

Judy Stevenson, 54, said: "He is too old. He is far too old. They need a young man with a nice modern haircut. I used to vote Lib Dem. I voted for Charles Kennedy. I didn't mind that he had a drink problem."

When Charles Kennedy did a similar walkabout in Harrogate last year he was practically mobbed and had to take refuge in a church

Sympathy for Mr Kennedy was running high among other bystanders.

"I thought it was absolutely appalling. Everybody has got problems in life," said Andrew Card, 42, of Hull.

Mr Card said Sir Menzies "seems nice" but he thought politicians in general were "all the same".

Hilary Wade, 55, said she was "not sure" about Sir Menzies.

"I think I might have been more inclined to vote for Chris Huhne. He would have been more appealing to younger voters."

When Charles Kennedy did a similar walkabout in Harrogate last year he was practically mobbed and had to take refuge in a church, although a group of particularly spirited Labour Party protesters added to the sense of hysteria.

Sir Menzies' walkabout was a more genteel affair and he was greeted with genuine warmth by most of the shoppers he met.

And, most importantly of all, he didn't slip over on the ice or challenge anyone to a snowball fight, however extreme the provocation. Safe hands indeed.




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