The sudden resignation of Liberal Democrat leader, Menzies Campbell, is yet another marked development in the shifting face of the UK political scene. Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s much awaited decision on the timing of the next General Election had until last week been the subject of a vast amount of political speculation. And his decision to postpone for a potential two years has almost certainly caused this turn of events. On Monday, Mr Campbell’s official resignation was announced, stating “it has become clear that following the Prime Minister’s decision not to hold an election, questions about leadership are getting in the way of further progress by the party”.
The Liberal Democrats, with their popular philosophy of “champion[ing] the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals” are the third largest party in the British Parliament. Yet in recent opinion polls the party had only 11% of the public vote. At a time when the ideological differences between New Labour and Conservative policies are ever more difficult to distinguish, a change in leadership could provide the Liberal Democrats with the impetus they need to rejuvenate their policies, and once again be viewed as a distinct and popular political voice.
As can be seen from their previous election success in winning a 22% share of votes from the 2005 General Election, the broadness of Liberal Democratic ideology has the potential to appeal to a wider sweep of the public than such polls do credit. Current policies include: proposing the abolition of tuition fees; supporting full UK participation in the European Union; and opposing the British national identity card.
Still, a resurgence of their former popularity can only occur with public confidence in the leadership. The credibility of the party and its leadership cannot have been improved by such greatly publicised negative incidents as the resignation of former Party Leader Charles Kennedy in 2006, after admission of a problem with alcoholism; or Mark Oaten’s withdrawal from the subsequent leadership race upon the exposé on his former relationship with a rent boy. Campbell himself faced constant media disparagement during his time as party leader, due to both his advanced age, at 66 years, and his seemingly ineffectual attempts to make an impact on domestic policy during debates in the House of Commons.
It remains to be seen who will emerge as the new figurehead of the Liberal Democrats. There are calls from within the party for a young lawmaker to step into the breach, an echo of the radical shift in the image of the Conservative leadership when David Cameron replaced Michael Howard in 2005. The Liberal Democrats will, for now, act under the stewardship of Vincent Cable- Deputy Leader under Campbell, until December 17th, by which date the forthcoming leadership contest will be resolved.