Ming the Mirthless

Sir Menzies Campbell may not have won many friends among the corporate elite this week with his latest plan to tax high earners until the pips squeak. But the Liberal Democrat leader unfortunately has more in common with his counterparts in the business world than he might think.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Once again, coverage of his party’s conference has been dominated by speculation about his leadership, rather than discussion of its policies. Campbell is spending so much time denying that his job is under threat that he is barely able to get on with his real task of formulating an effective third party opposition – which makes him even more vulnerable.

The Lib Dems are facing a problem that is all too common in the business world: an ineffective leader who shows no sign of shifting, and no apparent succession plan. Campbell may have looked like the best man for the job after the departure of Charles Kennedy, but he is increasingly looking like a lame duck as his party slides in the polls.

With no signs of progress, and the route to the top job apparently blocked, it’s not surprising that the party’s ambitious young pretenders (the latest being Sheffield MP Nick Clegg) are starting to make frustrated noises.

The problem is, the Lib Dems have hardly been working overtime to groom a credible successor. Clegg is not exactly a household name (outside Sheffield perhaps) while other possibles have tried and failed in the past. The sad fact is that the party’s three highest profile MPs are best known for alcoholism, a sordid episode with rent boys, and going out with one of the Cheeky Girls.

Of course, the Lib Dems have one advantage over most corporates – their rising stars are much less likely to defect to the competition. Although you never know these days…

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