That was Mike Hancock's description of those who he believes ousted Menzies Campbell from his role as Liberal Democrat leader, or at least so Kirsty Wark told BBC's Newsnight audience last night. This was toned down to be 'a right shower' on the AFP report. It is highly telling though that there is a mistrust within the party and a seeming lack of internal communications to allow the perception of their being kingmakers and coups at the top. Also speaking on Newsnight, Mark Littlewood, former Head of Media for the party, described Charles Kennedy's ousting as a 'defenestration', not quite the opportunity to clear himself of his problems as party spokespeople sold it. Campbell seemed instrumental in the ousting, and the allegations that appeared against the two popular candidates Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes may suggest that there was a lot of briefing going on from within the doors of the Cowley Street offices.
This may suggest that, while Campbell was victorious against Huhne is surviving unscathed rival, there may have been grievances that made his position shaky and increasingly untenable. Certainly there has been a lack of any concerted effort on behalf of some sections of the party to play down the age issue, thus they fell in line with the media in questioning whether a man in his sixties would be able to run a high pressure modern election campaign. Whether age is the real issue, or because it became an issue, is the question; or whether there were alternative reasons for wanting a new leader will perhaps be a mystery until the first autobiography appears and tells all.
The big question is though, should age be an issue? Campbell has had health scares so perhaps the intense work of an election could be a strain. But perhaps it is the image thing that is the problem. One reporter mentioned 'sock garters', an Edwardian fashion item, is Campbell perceived as just too old-fashioned? Is it a question of how professional he appears, and that may not be in terms of him looking business-like, but actually looking right when on camera. The recent gaffes say not. The bigger question is whether the Liberal Democrats could make a challenge whoever the leader is. The problem with the voting system and the general perception of British politics is that the next government will be Labour or Conservative, and any vote for an alternative is a waste. Now voters finally seem to want to offer support to the Conservatives again, but have not lost total faith in Labour or Gordon Brown, is there a place the Liberal Democrats can carve out.
The gap is the left, but that means focusing resources on Labour heartlands. Middle England is sown up. So is the three party politics that Kennedy heralded now dead and a new era of two-party politics emerging? If so in the borad scheme of things it may not matter who the leader is, but it might matter to all those who beleive that the Liberal Demcorats are the good guys, not out for power but who are for the 'little guy' if they are suddenly seen as tough guys who need to stab each otehr in the back to try to win a few points in the polls. That seems to be a perception that is rattlign around and may stick to the next leader as much as age has to undermine Campbell.