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Thursday, 30 December, 1999, 12:10 GMT
Review of 1999: Menzies Campbell

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs and defence spokesman Menzies Campbell reviews the political year for BBC News Online.

Highlight of the year

"There wasn't a highlight but I think the operations by Nato and Kosovo were obviously the most significant event politically that I was personally involved with.

"As the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs and defence spokesman, following upon the very robust line taken on these matters by Paddy Ashdown I was obviously very concerned and involved what happened there.

"In the end, Nato prevailed but there were a number of anxious moments.

"Thinking of supporting the sending of British forces into action in circumstances that they may lose their lives is obviously a very serious matter for politicians. One I certainly take very seriously and looking back over the year that to me was the single most political important event that I had any connection with."

Lowpoint of the year

"I think it has been a fairly equable year. There has been a great deal of political activity on Europe and on Kosovo but I can't think of any particular low point.

Charles Kennedy: The party's new leader
"I had a difficult decision to make when I decided not to run for the leadership of the party but that was an entirely personal matter and not one of general anxiety.

"I think the Liberal Democrats have generally had a good year.

"We said good bye to an extremely distinguished leader, who had served the best part of 12 years and a new leader has taken us on. A man of rather different approach but someone of great intelligence and of great integrity. We're under new management and that always brings a spring to the step.

"For about 10 minutes a day I regret the fact that I didn't run for leadership but, of course there was no guarantee I would have been elected and when I look at the schedule Charles Kennedy is now having to follow, I say to myself "thank god I wasn't persuaded that this was something I might have done"."

Winner of the year

"The prime minister, if the opinion polls are to believed, continues to be the winner of the year and Mr Hague and the Conservative Party continue to be the losers.

William Hague: A loser of 1999
"The Liberal Democrats have stayed pretty well at our general election opinion rating and that's unusual because in the mid term of a Parliament, support, in opinion poll terms, tends to fall away. But that hasn't happened.

"I think it's due to the fact there are 46 of us half way through this Parliament. We're more credible, we're more active, we're seen on a much wider, broader canvas than before and we're faced with a Conservative Party that even on the simple matter of trying to choose a candidate for mayor seems to find it impossible to do with anything approaching efficiency or common sense.

"The Liberal Democrat candidate Susan Kramer was chosen in the summer by one member one vote. She's been in position for three or four months, she's effective, she knows what she's talking about when it comes to transport. I think in that sense, although the contest for mayor hasn't started, then Susan Kramer is certainly something of a winner in comparison to the way in which the other two parties have dealt with this issue."

Loser of the year

"John Prescott has had a pretty difficult year but I think that was inevitable given the size of the department and the scope of the responsibility he has under taken.

"I think there's a great deal to be said for that department being split up and if transport is as important as it appears to be in the mind of the public then I can't help thinking it ought to be a department in its own right with a cabinet minister in his or her own right with responsibility for transport.

"I don't know whether he asked for it or it was imposed upon him, but the burden of responsibility he's got has been absolutely enormous and I think it was inevitable that he would find it difficult to sustain it."

The year ahead

"We're at the mid point in the Parliament now and what undoubtedly happens now is that the pace begins to quicken towards the next general election.

"The year 2000 may be the last full calendar year before the general election. I predict the general election will be in the spring of 2001 and I think what we will see in the Commons and outside in the country is a quickening of the pace.

"If you've fought as many general elections as I have then the noise of ballot papers being printed stirs the blood. It raises the adrenaline, it makes you get your canvassing kit out and start to think of how best to set about trying to hold on to your seat.

"It was once said by a Scottish judge, I think, that nothing concentrates the mind better than a good hanging. There's nothing that concentrates the political mind better than the prospect of a general election.

"I think Europe will continue to be a matter of importance. We're going to have an inter-government conference at the beginning of next year. Robin Cook and I have just agreed, as part of the joint cabinet committee process, to consider how best we can co-ordinate the approach of the government and the Liberal Democrats to the reform of European institutions.

"When I look at the next year I am stimulated by the fact that it will probably be the last full calendar year before an election but I'm slightly intimidated by the fact that there's a great deal of work to get done. I hope the stimulation will ensure the intimidation is kept at bay."

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See also:
30 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Review of 1999: Francis Maude
30 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Review of 1999: Tony Benn

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