David Walter: Another week in the Campbell Campaign

David Walter reports on this week’s events in Ming Campbell’s campaign:

This week, Ming Campbell had the chance to participate in a great triumph. But as well as being present to watch Scotland beat France at Murrayfield, he has also seen his campaign for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats go from strength to strength.

On Monday, he paid a further visit to the Dunfermline by-election in the constituency next to his own. Many voters told him about their disillusionment with Labour. With a very strong local Lib Dem candidate in Willie Rennie, and as much help as possible from members and supporters round the country, we can look for a very good result next Thursday.

On Tuesday, unlike the Prime Minister, Ming did not miss the key votes on the religious hatred bill in the House of Commons, and the Government was duly defeated twice. Neil Sherlock spoke on Ming’s behalf at the informal hustings meeting in Guildford.

On Wednesday, after a highly effective exchange at Prime Minister’s Questions about Iran, Ming spoke to students at the London School of Economics and then met his leading women supporters. The four youngest women MPs in the House of Commons, Julia Goldsworthy, Jo Swinson, Sarah Teather and Jenny Willott are backing Ming, as well as Shirley Williams, Jenny Tonge, Emma Nicholson, Sue Doughty and many other well-known figures in the party.

On Thursday, Ming was in Brussels, speaking to MEPs and members of the Brussels local party. Ming has always called for a twin-track policy on the EU. He believes the party should be both pro-Europe and pro reform of Europe. In Brussels he put forward a plan to tackle EU fraud, which is largely the responsibility of national governments spending the EU’s money. He called for finance ministers across Europe to provide the Commission each year with a National Declaration of Assurance – a document prepared on the advice of the senior auditing officers in each member state confirming that EU funds have been spent properly in each country.

Ming also had a series of one-to-one meetings with Liberal Democrat MEPs. Before he left, he gained the endorsement of Fiona Hall, Sarah Ludford, and Diana Wallis. Altogether he now has the support of eight of our twelve Euro-MPs, more than twice the number of any of his rivals.

On Friday, Ming visited a mosque in Nelson in Lancashire. The Muslim community remembers how well he articulated the case against the Iraq War. His Nelson audience heard him attack the failure to predict and prepare for the insurgency in Iraq and to fill the power vacuum after the Iraqi security services had been disbanded. He told them: “Make no mistake. I want to bring our troops home as soon as possible. But I am clear that that process should be driven by events on the ground in Iraq, not by arbitrary deadlines marked on a calendar in London.”

On Saturday, Ming was across the Pennines in Yorkshire. In Otley, he joined campaigners in full swing for May’s local elections, and sampled their secret weapon, a delicious home-made corned beef hash soup. Ming has always campaigned closely with local council candidates in his own constituency. He knows that local election success is the key foundation stone of parliamentary success.

Ming also attended two hustings events in Yorkshire, first an informal session in Harrogate then an official one in Leeds. Questions ranged widely. He pointed out how local government is subjected to much tougher scrutiny than national government. He wants to see far more openness in Westminster and Whitehall. Asked to comment on how to take on the Tories, he reminded the audience that David Cameron wrote his party’s manifesto for the 2005 election. “I see no liberal butterfly emerging from that particular chrysalis”, he added. In reply to a question about his first hundred days, Ming said that one of his key priorities is to raise party membership. His goals for the leadership are, he said, unity, purpose and professionalism.

It was good to see the Leeds hustings so packed. 450 members turned up to hear the candidates. The leadership campaign is motivating the membership and raising the party’s profile, creating an excellent launchpad for Charles Kennedy’s successor.

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