Rory's week

If Charlie drank to give himself courage, Ming needs to develop a habit, soon

I can't help feeling this stuff about Charles Kennedy's drinking has got out of proportion, with phone-ins and bulletins devoted to unsurprising revelations about something the public knew about months ago. More to the point, staff at the Times must have known about it even longer, and, like the Liberal Democrats, chosen to exercise a bit of compassionate discretion.

Are we supposed to gasp in shock that the Lib Dems had "secret meetings" to discuss their leader's drink problem? You'd hardly expect them to hold public meetings? It's not as if journalists are models of temperance. The newsreader Reginald Bosanquet's fondness for a drink was so well known- and tolerated - that at his funeral service, the congregation were practically obliged to slur the words of the hymns and shuffle the hymn sheets at the end of the service as a mark of respect.

More worrying is the fact that Kennedy, drunk or not, was still more articulate than Ming Campbell sober, when it comes to voicing an alternative to the dire consensus currently shared by Blair and Cameron. And I speak as an admirer of Ming's authoritative opposition to the "war on terror". It's just that since he became leader, and certainly since the latest crisis in the Middle East, he's been all but invisible. I know last week he emerged from the Villa d'Este to voice his concerns, but it all seemed too little too late.

After a faltering start, Ming of all people needed to raise his profile with a withering attack on the folly of fighting terror with terror in Lebanon and the Prime Minister's shameful compliance with George Bush. It was his field, after all. Invited on to Mastermind, Ming's subject would have been Foreign Affairs, 2001 to the present. Instead, we get mutterings about internal reform and "lots happening below the surface". We need to see more above the surface, unless, in a new conspiracy, close colleagues are covering up for the fact that Ming is seeking help to resolve a personal issue. If Charlie drank to give himself courage, Ming needs to develop a drink problem, and soon.

Alternatively, following the Austrian scenario, the true Brown will emerge blinking into the sunlight having been held for over nine years in a cell under a garage where he was allowed no comment on the outside world. As Tony Blair, the man believed responsible for holding the young Gordon all that time, hurls himself under a train, Gordon will astonish the waiting media by declaring: "We were equally strong - he was not my master. He was a part of my life and this is why I am, in a way, mourning him."

Was it right to stay in Barbados during the terror alert back home? Blair: "Everybody needs a summer holiday, doing things they always wanted to." What does he make of the split between the Muslim world and the west? Blair: "It's such a shame, but who's to blame when two worlds drift apart." How are relations with the party? "It's so funny . . . how we don't talk anymore." And how much longer must Brown wait before you hand over power? "Until the Twelfth of Never - and that's a long, long time."

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