Leading Article: Could the real Charles Kennedy now step forward?

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The Independent Culture
NO MORE Celebrity Countdown, then. The most immediate consequence of the election of Charles Kennedy to the leadership of the Liberal Democrats is to deprive the makers and viewers of daytime television's quiz shows of one of their more versatile and entertaining guests. It would be churlish to dwell on this, but Mr Kennedy's frequent appearances in the magic rectangle have paid him a substantial political premium: the "name recognition" they delivered amongst the party's so-called "armchair membership" will have had a lot to do with his victory in this election.

It was a respectable enough victory, but hardly overwhelming. Mr Kennedy was rightly fulsome in his praise of Simon Hughes's inspirational performances. Malcolm Bruce, Jackie Ballard, and David Rendel may be underestimated politicians, but their votes speak for themselves. It was a long, dull campaign fatally flawed by the absence of Menzies Campbell, the one formidable proponent of the idea of closer links with Labour, who might have made the debate come alive and capture the public's attention.

For as long as television remains the dominant medium for politics, polished performers like Mr Kennedy will be at a premium. He is, as he often says, a "human being", whose communication skills are not in doubt, outstripping those of William Hague, and may yet prove a match for Tony Blair. He is occasionally accused of being lazy, but there is no law that every leader of a British political party has to be combat-ready. Some distinguished predecessors have taken a more relaxed approach to office. Mr Kennedy is an intelligent man whose Highland roots and life outside politics afford him a valuable hinterland.

Mr Kennedy is also, however, remarkable in that he is possessed of a dual political personality. During this contest we have witnessed two Charles Kennedys. The first Mr Kennedy has a pragmatic, open-minded approach to forging closer links with new Labour and taking forward the "project" of extending formal co-operation through the Joint Cabinet Committee. This is the Kennedy backed by Menzies Campbell, Lord Jenkins and Downing Street. But then there is the other Mr Kennedy. This one only appeared towards the end of the campaign. He takes an altogether more hostile line on ties to Labour, ruling out any extension of the remit of the Joint Cabinet Committee. Mr Kennedy's first task, and one which he has begun in these pages today, is to make clear exactly which of the two personalities is to become the dominant.

Until he does this, damaging speculation about the party's future will overshadow any ideas he may have about revamping policy or building the party's strength. As they say on the television gameshows - will the real Mr Kennedy now make himself known?