The ungracious and shameful manner in which Charles Kennedy’s alcoholism was handled by his party – the same party, lest we forget, for which he had grabbed the largest number of seats since its previous incarnation eighty years previously – was a sober lesson in Westminster morals at their most ruthless. Stabbed in the back by colleagues with unrealisable ambitions to better what Kennedy had achieved, he was replaced by Sir Menzies (AKA ‘Ming the Merciless’) Campbell, whose leadership was such a roaring success it lasted barely a year. And then came Clegg. Alas, poor Nick, we knew him well. Gordon Brown agreed with him, and so did David Cameron.
It was only when the Con-Dem Coalition was ripped apart by cynically effective Tory electioneering in 2015 that the shackles the Lib Dems placed on the most damaging Conservative policies became apparent; not that the electorate recognised this, taking out their frustrations with austerity politics on the junior partners and decimating their numbers, forcing Nick Clegg to fall on his leadership sword as a consequence. A party reduced to single figures had little in the way of choice when it came to a successor and in stepped Tim Farron. Yes, Tim Farron; remember him?
Tim Farron was the
fish finger party leader whose General Election campaign barely a month ago was dogged by persistent questions over his faith and its official position on gay sex (presumably not a missionary one). When he quit a couple of weeks ago, Farron cited his God-bothering as one of the main reasons for resigning; he apparently regarded it as an impossibility to lead his party and ‘live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching’. Why run in the first place then, vicar?
Yes, some of the grillings he received on account of his religious beliefs were unfair; as I said at the time, would he have been similarly pursued on this one question had he been a Muslim MP rather than a Christian one? But Farron had presented the media with such an open goal that it merely highlighted his evident unsuitability for leading a political party; in recent years, his efforts at leadership have only been matched by some of the clowns in the UKIP hot-seat.
Why on earth Farron chose to compete in the last General Election campaign when he’d obviously decided to quit at the soonest available moment says everything about the diminished aspirations of the Lib Dems. That his resignation was announced on a day when the country was still coming to terms with the Grenfell Tower disaster underlines the unfortunate and inopportune timing where his party is concerned of late. Not to worry, though; the Lib Dems have their very own Jezza! Yes, Old Mother Cable is back, and it looks as if the man who sold the Royal Mail down the river during his stint as Coalition Business Secretary is poised to step into the breach as saviour!
The 74-year-old Westminster veteran was missing in action for two years, but returned to Parliament three weeks ago and now stands to lead his party out of the wilderness. Even with an improved showing at this year’s General Election, the Lib Dems still have a paucity of talent to draw upon when it comes to leadership, and another Lib Dem who has returned to Parliament after two years’ absence, Ed Davey, has ruled himself out of standing by citing the tried and trusted ‘I want to spend more time with my family’ excuse; why become an MP again if that’s such a prominent concern? Other potential contenders – Norman Lamb and Jo Swinson (another returnee) – have also pulled out, which leaves Cable with a virtually unchallenged path to the crown of thorns that is being Lib Dem leader.
Sir Vince has already stated his intention to push for a second EU Referendum, which may win him a few votes with Remainers in permanent denial, though I suspect the rest of the country will see it as precisely what it is – a desperate clutch at desperate straws by a desperate party. It’s not as though the Lib Dems have anything else to clutch at now, yet their approach to the Brexit conundrum didn’t exactly set the electorate alight during the General Election, anyway; they only won 12 seats, after all. And the fact they’re poised to place their future in the hands of a man who someone once compared to Mr Barrowclough from ‘Porridge’ just about sums up their utter irrelevance to the changed political landscape of 2017.
28 YEARS LATER
The news that six people – three of them former coppers – will be charged with offences relating to the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989 flies in the face of the usual routine where ex-police officers have bent the rules to cover their own backs. Early retirement is the standard reward as the offenders are pensioned off and stick to their stories. Yes, it may be a belated announcement that the Crown Prosecution Service have charged six involved on the day, but it’s about bloody time. One of the six is Sir Norman Bettison, a Chief Inspector with the South Yorkshire Police in 1989, and a man who competed with Kelvin McKenzie to propagate the most despicable myths re the behaviour of the fans that day. He is being charged with four offences of misconduct in public office.
Another senior officer at the time, David Duckenfield, is a former Chief Superintendent who was match commander on the fatal day in question; he was the man who gave the order for the exit gate to be opened and therefore allowed the rush of Liverpool fans into the central pens of the terraces behind the goals that provoked the crush that resulted in 95 deaths; he is being charged with manslaughter by gross negligence.
As happened at Orgreave during the Miners’ Strike five years earlier, South Yorkshire Police looked after their own at the expense of those who suffered as a consequence of their actions at Hillsborough; it is only due to the remarkable resilience and tenacity of the bereaved families that today’s announcement by the CPS has come to pass. Showing the same dogged determination as those who hunted down Nazi War Criminals in the 50s and 60s, their tireless efforts not only led to the Operation Resolve investigation, but they may now finally see someone held accountable in a court of law. This is long overdue, and we can only hope justice will eventually be done. If elderly ‘sex offenders’ can be pursued by the police for offences committed half-a-century ago, why can’t elderly policemen be pursued likewise?
© The Editor