Donnachadh McCarthy: The lamentable leadership of Charles Kennedy

I have poured my time, money and career into the Lib Dems. Today, I am announcing my resignation
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The Independent Online

I first realised Mr Kennedy's unfitness to lead when the party had to campaign against the illegal Iraqi invasion, despite Mr Kennedy rather than because of him. For months prior to the invasion, we urged him to lead the opposition to the war but he refused, stating he was not against the war but in favour of the UN.

When the executive unanimously endorsed the massive 15 February peace march, Kennedy's office blocked efforts to organise the Lib Dem presence at the march. He was finally forced to attend the march because national newspapers reported the executive's support for it and highlighted his invisibility.

The leadership then sought to change the slogan for the Liberal Democrat banners from the clear "Lib Dems Say No" to the equivocal "Give Peace a Chance". The banners had already been printed and so branded the party, despite the leadership, as an anti-war party.

Within the party, Mr Kennedy has also been a disaster, ruling by patronage rather than democracy. When his inner circle was criticised on the party's electronic discussion forum, he threatened to close down the party's electronic fora. When the party voted to elect its representatives to the Lords, instead of appointing those duly elected, he appointed his own nominees.

When the party voted to end the corrupt practice of Liberal Democrat peers working as political lobbyists, he threatened legal action against those who complained about the continuing practice. Indeed, Lord Clement-Jones, who was employed as a political lobbyist by the notorious Cayman Islands tax haven, has just been made the party's federal treasurer, and Lord Razzall was put in charge of the general election campaign which called for fairer taxation, despite his being a director of a company in the Channel Islands tax haven.

Whilst unbelievably downplaying the war in the run-up to the general election, his lieutenants, instead of building on the successful centre-left progressive coalition that had won so many Tory seats, embarked on a policy of "sounding more Tory", which ended in total failure at the election. This lurch to the right was heralded by the publication of the infamous Orange Book, which, despite Kennedy's written introduction, was derided across the party as a right-wing Blairite manifesto. Nevertheless, Kennedy placed the core Orange Book authors Vince Cable, David Laws and Mark Oaten into key positions of power. Britain does not need or deserve three centre-right parties.

Finally, there is Mr Kennedy's unwillingness to take a clear position on most issues. Indeed, this was claimed to be an advantage by his aides, who said it meant voters from both sides of issues ended up supporting him. This is political nonsense. Constructive politics is about advocating policies that will benefit the wider good. A party has to campaign on its policies if it is to persuade the public of their value. The party has a range of crucial progressive liberal policies such as a renewable energy economy, creating a fairer democracy, an effective drugs strategy and so on, yet the leadership refuses to encourage grassroots campaigning on these.

They refused to supply pro-European campaign materials to local parties stating "there is no demand for it", when the truth is they do not want to campaign on a currently unpopular policy. If even the Liberal Democrats refuse to promote the European ideal, then it is truly in danger.

The failure to highlight the environment in recent elections was due to opinion polls indicating, wrongly in my opinion, a lack of concern amongst voters.

After the general election, Kennedy distracted attention from his failure to make a major breakthrough by launching a profoundly dishonest attack on his own party activists who had just worked their hearts out. He blamed them for foisting unpopular policies on the party which had been attacked by our opponents in the election. The real truth was that these policies were included in papers submitted by Mr Kennedy's own Federal Policy Committee.

People are tired of posturing, and of opinion poll-driven politics, and are hungry for a radical social and environmental agenda that the Liberal Democrats can ideally provide.

Whilst, personally, I have decided to become an independent environmental campaigner, it is my hope that the party will have the courage to change leaders. Unless the leadership passes to people with political integrity and campaigning talent, the Liberal Democrat Party will miss the enormous opportunity that it currently has to lead Britain to a better future.

The writer was deputy chair of the Liberal Democrats

dmccarthy@cix.co.uk

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