What would Charles Kennedy do?

Popular former Lib Dem leader would surely not want to rule out a Labour coalition.

Earlier today I revisited Nick Clegg's "disdain" for the Conservatives during an interview with me last year in which he refused, however, to rule out a coalition with the Tories. Further to that, and in this time of uncertaintly, in which perhaps even Clegg does not know what is going to happen, it is worth thinking about what the highly popular former leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy might be thinking right now.

Surely Kennedy, a former Social Democratic Party man with close ties to the Labour Party and distinctly leftist instincts, would be in favour of a deal with Gordon Brown, no?

Well, not necessarily. All Lib Dems are realists now and want maximum credibility as well as influence for their party. I have not spoken to Kennedy about the present situation. However, sources close to him indicate that although he is not arguing for a definite deal with Labour, he would not be happy unless all the options -- including the "progressive alliance" one -- were fully explored, and the forces of conservatism led by Rupert Murdoch resisted.

All we can do to help us guess at his views is again to look back, as we did with Clegg, at what he has said before -- this time at Kennedy's extremely dignified speech on his resignation, which after all came about partly as a result of the belief in Westminster that David Cameron was the new dynamic force in British politics:

My sincere parting advice as leader to the party is to keep that debate within the parameters of these principles -- and not to get unduly distracted by the machinations in other parties or what the vagaries of the British voting system may offer up at a future general election. That route will blur our identity and turn away the very voters who are still looking to us -- rightly so -- as their best hope for the future.

It is to that future which I will continue to work with enthusiasm. First, for the people of the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency -- whom I am privileged to serve. And also for the continuing progress and success of our Liberal Democrat values -- values which, when best expressed, give voice to the many who might otherwise be insufficiently heard.

A new leader inherits a party with the largest House of Commons representation in the Liberal tradition in over 80 years. We secured a million more votes in our support at the last general election compared with the one before. We are established as serious players in the changing reality which is three-party politics across Britain. I believe that to be a good inheritance and a great opportunity. One in which I look forward to continuing to play my part. Thank you.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that, although only current members of the Lib Dem front bench are being touted as cabinet ministers in a full-blooded coalition, neither Paddy Ashdown nor Kennedy should be ruled out.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.