I see that one of the Lib-Dems leading cowardly lions, Vince Cable, has been doing the Breakfast TV rounds this morning and as this is all not quite a coup d’etat he’s been dilligently not quite sticking the knife in Kennedy’s back, at least not personally.
Let’s be absolutely clear about what’s going on here.
What we have is a block of MP’s who want Kennedy out as Lib Dem leader.
Why? Well, forget all this business about Charlie and the Whisky Distillery, this isn’t about Kennedy having a drink problem, falling off the wagon last November or anything else like that. It’s not about the ideological split in the Lib-Dems between the left-wing social liberals and the right-wing Orange Bookistas, although Political Hack is certainly right to note this as one cause of internal tensions in the party. What this is about, ultimately, is what politics and leadership contests are all about – self preservation.
Cameron’s blatant dive for the centre ground and open push to bring Lib Dem voters over to the newly (and allegedly) ‘liberal-centrist’ Tory Party has the Lib Dems rattled and with good reason. But for the last election where they picked up much of the ‘pissed off with Blair vote’, the majority of their earlier successes have come on the back of sucking voters from the fringes of the old ‘one-nation Tory’ bloc in rural areas, especially in the South-West of England.
A nightmare electoral scenario is starting to open up in front of them, one in which many, if not most, of the gains they’ve made in recent years out of not being one of the two main parties, from being the alternative that allows Tory voters to express their displeasure with their own party without voting Labour and vice versa, could literally evaporate overnight in the upcoming dogfight over the centre ground between the big two.
Hence Kennedy must go – as leader of the third party he’s not expected to deliver victory but he is expected to keep his parliamentary colleagues in a job and its there that MPs confidence in him has been shaken.
Except things are a little more complicated than that thanks to Lib Dem party rules which only provide for the actual removal of the party leader by its membership.
All the talk of no-confidence motions amongst the Kennedy-out MP’s is a blind. they could certainly take such a vote and, if Newsnight’s coverage last night is on the mark, win such a vote as well, but that doesn’t, under the Lib Dem constitution, remove Kennedy from office. all it does is trigger a leadership contest – which Kennedy has already called anyway.
Its not enough for the anti-Kennedy crew to force him out of office, they have to force him completely out of the leadership picture so he won’t put himself up in the upcoming leadership election. After all, if Kennedy stands and actually wins the contest on the votes of party members – or even puts up a damn good showing and goes down to only a mariginal defeat – then who’s position is untenable? Not just Kennedy’s but his opponents as well.
This is, without doubt, the worst executed political assassination in living memory, maybe even in history. There’s a quasi-Shakespearean quality tot he whole thing, the senators have clustered around Caesar but are now looking blankly at each other not daring, any of them, to take on the role of Servilus Casta and strike the first real blow.
It is, without doubt, a most spectacular display of moral and political cowardice. Kennedy’s position may well now be untenable but at least he retains some dignity and credit in this whole sorry mess. If he leaves office at the end of all this, he does so as a troubled man, but still a decent man. His opponents merely appear as they are – a pack of slavering hyenas.
If this situation conjures images of Caesar in the senate, it conjure also – for me at least – thoughts of the bravura performance of Burl Ives in te film version of Tennessee Williams’s ‘Cat On Hot Tin Roof’. Kennedy is no Southern patriarch, admittedly, but one could well forgive him a few moments rattling around the family home railing against the mendacity of his ‘colleagues’ much as Ives did in speaking of Gooper’s snivelling wretch of a wife, Mae.
What’s that smell in this room? Didn’t you notice it Brick? Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?…There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity…You can smell it. It smells like death.