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Ming – part 3 Jun 12

Back online after a few days in London, and back to what has been dubbed the Mingterview.

Andy wanted to know how the Liberal Democrats could get our message across to Sun-reading council estate residents rather than focussing on the Islington liberati. This was the only point were Ming’s response was a little less than convincing. He noted our local government successes in places like Newcastle and said this had to be translated into parliamentary seats before identifying law and order as a key issue, saying that people on housing estates suffer most from crime. He said that newspaper circulations are falling and suggested connecting with these voters by using the internet – although, with no prompting, he quickly pointed out that this group are those most likely not to be online. He concluded that localised campaigning should be used to connect with these voters.

Passing briefly over the subject of localism (“We have to demonstrate how to make it work in practice”) we moved on the Labour leadership. Campbell believes that Blair may well go at next year’s Labour party conference. 2007 will mark ten years as PM and Thatcher’s reputation would have been better if she had bowed out gracefully in 1989. Gordon Brown may want his own mandate as PM, and would remember the bounce that Major achieved in 1992. Ming recognised that a restless public could see a change of PM as a change of government, “particularly if the dramatis personae change.” As a result, Ming will be planning for the possibility of a snap general election.

From Labour to the Tories, and specifically their leader. “The shine is coming off. How will he get through 15-18 months without any serious policy content?” Ming suspects that the wider Conservative membership don’t support the positions the “vacuous” Cameron is taking. “He makes a speech a day about bugger all. I’ll at least have something to say.” Campbell ridiculed Cameron’s speech on happiness, evening singing a few bars of Ken Dodd’s 1964 single. “All [Cameron] needs now is a tickling stick.”

Ming is similarly unimpressed by Cameron’s tactics on Europe. He calls German Chancellor Angela Merkel “the European statesperson” – she has defied his expectations. She is the closest to Cameron’s party in Europe, but instead of sitting with them in the European Parliament he wants to work “with people who don’t think women should stand and who don’t think you should ride a bicycle on Sundays.” This attitude from the Tories will, he believes, provide an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats.

The EU is, Campbell said, still being protectionist, with the French most guilty. “The market is either free and single or it’s not.” He warned, however, against retaliation and combatting protectionism with more of the same, and suggeted that “EU countries don’t get globalisation.” There are 300,000 new science graduates a year in China and India has become a software capital. “These countries will look for matching political influence.” China is becoming much more assertive. Ming drew a parallel with the British Empire – a strong economy and power go hand in hand. The EU can’t retreat into a fortress mentality, but the French political elite are unwilling to acknowledge the problem. “France has to be damaged before it can be repaired.” Ming believes that Merkel’s big test is to carry through reforms in Germany. He believes that Brown and Blair “get it” but has his doubts about Cameron.

The conversation returns to his leadership. Ming noted that his first sixty days had been spent on the local elections (whereas Cameron, taking over in December, had a month’s Christmas break to ease himself in). Campbell had found it difficult being both Acting Leader and a candidate in the leadership election, out on the campaign trail when he needed to be in Westminster and keen not to be seen to use his position to help his candidacy. He characterises his view his aim for his leadership and the party with the Olympic motto: “citius, altius, fortius” – quicker, higher, stronger.

With time getting short, we switched from heavy political issues to other matters. Ming, though a Scot, is supporting England in the World Cup – he’ll support “Scotland against England at Murrayfield, England against Australia at the Oval, and the UK and Europe in the Ryder Cup team against the USA.” He believes the World Cup can provide a huge boost with the Olympics and will be spending time with Seb Coe on the latter.

The subject moved to television and, for the benefit of those readers of this blog who don’t have dreams about Focus delivery, I asked a quick question about Doctor Who. “Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker were the quintessential Doctor Whos,” according to Ming. He will divide fans with his next comment: “After that it was downhill all the way.” He and his wife – who wrote an academic paper on Coronation Street – do like television. Ming was keen on Dallas, which was a bit of a surprise. He took pleasure while recovering from illness from being able to watch cricket and rugby matches on Sky Sports. I asked how he felt about being satirised on TV now that he’s leader. He said that his grandchildren have learnt a Rory Bremner sketch verbatim and he’s now treated to them being Bremner being him when he sees them. And that he tries to keep a sense of humour.

And that was that. As something of a Ming sceptic (and a Huhne backer in the leadership election), I was pleasantly surprised. It may not have been the most challenging or hostile interview he’s ever likely to do, but he handled the questions pretty well. He came across as switched on, enthusiastic, and on top of policy – and I got the impression that he and those around him know what they’re doing, where they want to take the party, and how to get there.

One Response

  1. 1

    He loses points for

    (a) saying we shouldn’t retaliate agiansy french protectionism

    (b) dissing Dr Who post Baker

    (c) scoffing at Cameroons happiness speech.

    However he gains doubles points for liking dynasty and gets another for appreciating angela merkel.

    Over all a revenue neutral interview. Or a tranatlantic flight with off sets if you prefer.

    thank you will!