Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Charles Kennedy: The LibDems are the hardest party to lead

Charles Kennedy writes with his normal pithiness in the Guardian about being LibDem leader. It's the endless party meetings which get to you, he says:

I was very struck by one review of the first instalment of Paddy Ashdown's diaries, penned by a seasoned member of the parliamentary press gallery. The journalist made the telling observation that he had never appreciated the extent to which the Lib Dem leader had to spend so much of his time bound up with seemingly endless, time-consuming and frequently frustrating internal party committees - talking to Lib Dems, listening to Lib Dems, seeking to cajole Lib Dems. It gets to you after a while.

Charles says that the demands on a leader of a smaller party are greater than those on a leader of a larger party:

A smaller-size party and parliamentary membership does not necessarily equate to lesser demands; if anything, the opposite can be the case. The scale involved brings with it assumptions of proximity and availability; delegation can be difficult to achieve, because for many inside and outside the party "only the leader will do". The same is true with the media: many a slot will be offered, but only on the proviso that it will be the leader in the frame. Do less and try to promote the credentials of others - the accusation soon comes of insufficient engagement. Do too much and the refrain becomes "it's a one-man band". There is a constant tension in trying to square this circle.

Charles recalls his first PMQs in his parting observation:

Space is all. The new leader will start with a brief interlude of a blank canvas, before January's very public and abrupt shift of gear kicks in. And the first most remarked upon "performance" will be that veritable bear pit called prime minister's questions on January 9. Shortly before my own first outing in that parliamentary cockpit, I sat in the leader's office and counted 12 people, all offering advice. That couldn't last and it didn't. But our new leader - well, he certainly has to.

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