The men in grey suits take care that their message in not misunderstood and after they had been in touch with Sir Walter Menzies Campbell Privy Counsellor, Chancellor of St. Andrews University, MP, CBE, QC he felt the only course open to him was to compose a curt letter of resignation as Liberal leader and, in a huff, get on the first flight back to Edinburgh, indicating that no one should waste their time chasing him because he would not be holding any press conference or make any further comment.
As he is a politician nobody was expected to take that seriously so it was not a surprise that the very next day he allowed himself to be interviewed at his posh home, under the chandelier in a room described by one correspondent as having walls decorated in “ruling class red”. In fact Campbell’s resignation was itself a complete reversal of his most recent declaration in the matter: for example on the day before he assured his party’s eastern regional conference that he considered himself to have the “the energy, the ideas and the determination to lead the party into the next election and beyond”. He might also have offered, as another qualification, that he was untroubled by any doubts about being inconsistent.
Much the same could be said about two of the likely candidates to succeed to the leadership. Nick Clegg might have stood when Charles Kennedy was ousted last year but he held back in favour of Campbell – which did not deter him from going on to undermine Campbell by letting it be known at this year’s party conference that he was ready to stand “in the future” – which came rather sooner than had been expected. Chris Huhne is Clegg’s bitter rival – which began when Huhne persuaded Clegg not to contest the succession to Kennedy by assuring Campbell of his support and then himself standing, running a close second to Campbell. Both of these candidates are a lot younger than Campbell, who fumes that he is “irritated” by the media concentration on his age, which he says is only a “temporary condition” – whatever he means by that. It seems to have escaped him that any preoccupation with youth as energising and progressive stems from its elevation into the kind of lucrative, ever regenerating, market so exciting to capitalism’s commodity based structure. Whatever “irritation” Campbell may feel will be familiar to the many workers who are condemned to a deeper level of poverty through being classified as unemployable through age, accentuated by the reduction of their hoped-for pension on the grounds of their employers’ financial priorities.
As Campbell stormed off into the sulky skies, his friends and enemies were in competition to embellish the distasteful episode with abject descriptions of him: “a man of honesty, decency and integrity…unique integrity and courage” It was as if they needed to forget his part in the execution of Charles Kennedy, enthusiastic enough to earn him the soubriquet “Ming the Merciless”. The episode illuminated how the political parties of capitalism owe their nature to the very style of the system, so that they purvey a cynicism born of inherent stress and exclusion, making a contradiction of the words Liberal and Democratic.