Was this the moment it started to go wrong for Ming?

Was this the moment it started to go wrong for Ming?


    How punters reacted to PMQs on Jan 11th 2006?

Just five days after Charles Kennedy resigned in January 2006 Ming Campbell took, for the first time as interim leader, his party’s leader’s slot at Prime Minister’s Questions. This was a key moment in his career and, for once, all eyes were on the prospective head of the UK’s third party when he got to his feet for the allocated two questions.

    Alas Ming came to what should have been a defining point in the then campaign and the biggest moment of his career unprepared. He hesitated, asked an ill-thought out question and then failed to redeem the position as Labour and Tory MPs began laughing at him.

At that precise moment he simply completely looked out of his depth – a view that was shared by punters who until then had been backing him heavily to be Kennedy’s successor. The chart shows the implied probability of a Campbell victory on January 11th 2006 based on best betting prices. PMQs start at noon. Within a day or so the price eased further and further and Ming lost his favourite slot to Simon Hughes.

Of course Campbell has had better PMQs since and there’s much more to being a party leader than being in the chamber every Wednesday lunch-time. But the public, as poll after poll have shown, have judged him to be unconvincing. He’s found it hard commanding attention when all the focus has been on the leaderships of the two main parties.

It’s tough being the Lib Dem leader at any time because of the way the media find it easier to portray politics as a two horse race. To be up there you need the personality to attract attention and the ability to articulate original ideas that people want to discuss.

I raise this now following a couple of recent conversations. One was with a former staffer to Paddy Ashdown who challenged me to think of any other political leader who had managed to recover from such a bad start. I couldn’t. The other was with a senior figure in the party who said the word was the Ming was not liking the job at all.

Ming remains the 1/5 favourite in the betting as to which leader will go first.

Mike Smithson

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