The Sketch: Charlie does walking. And talking. Bravo!

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The Independent Online

There was a photocall, or summons, or instruction. Charles Kennedy would be walking from his hotel to the conference centre. Is this what it's come to?

We all turned out to see our Scotch friend walk. I took advantage of some devolved local autonomy and sat on the steps of the centre reading my notes. He did the walking trick all down the waterfront and it worked so well he eventually arrived on stage.

Then there was more walking. Thoughtful walking. Over here on one side of the podium. Over there on the other side. If he fell over, I missed it. I was looking intently at Ming Campbell's right ear. The new leader had come to sit directly in front of me. He has extremely beautiful ears.

Charles looked fit but sounded hoarse. Has he been bellowing at the mirror? What unthinkable blasphemies issue from the mind of a deposed leader? What rage and bitterness must he conceal? Has he been grovelling across the carpet, thumping it and growling like a sobbing dog? Oh, I know what it feels like, I know, I know.

Where were we? He smiled nicely in that reluctant way we like. It was impossible not to think, though, what a hopeless minister he'd be, what a useless administrator, a terrible policy former. The thing he is suitable for is standing at the head of a political party. That's different from "leading a political party". His speech revived a sense of desperation I hadn't felt for a year, listening to his platitudes (still clearly pinched from Tony Blair), his strange climaxes ("to reach our goal of a proper, ultimate federal United Kingdom"), his feeble policy prescriptions ("it won't be called the House of 'Lords'!"), and a wide-ranging description of a global environmental problem. It appears that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been increasing in the past 200 years. It is causing something called "global warming".

One thing was surprising: "Damnable," he said, half-drowned out by applause, "absolutely damnable".

He was talking about "the global integrity of Britain" being damaged by the Prime Minister's behaviour in the Middle East. It would have been quite a remark had he been party leader. "Damnable!" Would he have made such a remark as been party leader? He'd had ample opportunity.

His party certainly prospered under his tenure but they never got what they deserved. They championed increased public spending when it was unpopular; Labour delivered such a superfluity of public spending they were eclipsed. Their green taxes are daringly unpopular but if they come to anything they'll suffer the same fate.

He finished by demonstrating again the walking skills we now associate with him. They're a core value. He went briskly, after a minute, gesturing at his watch. He didn't want to start an ovation competition. So the walking is fine. But can Ming make the running?

simon@sketch.sc

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