Werther's Grandad Ming flops again
Ming "Werther's Grandad" Campbell was on Newsnight last night for a cringeworthy session clearly dreamt up by his new PR chief to stimulate a change in his perception. Aside from the fact it was painfully counter-productive it's just too late. His public persona is already too well -defined and he just doesn't have the vivacity - despite however great his convictions may be - to shake the negatives off.
All last night's "performance" achieved was to give direct airtime to how poorly he is perceived and to focus on his weaknesses. His team may be surprised at this, but it was always going to be the result. The LD leader was facing a panel of largely hostile floating voters who were invited to air their concerns about him. How is he going to be able to rebut their assertions that he's too old, not energetic or passionate enough, and that he lacks the dynamism of Cameron without weakly pining "No, I'm not"?
The negatives seemed endless as I watched and are certainly too many to list exhaustatively. A hugely damaging poll it appeared he hadn't seen before appearing. A hostile audience with heavy moderation and with no supporters in case of disaster. Ming sat awkwardly in a trendy chair which put into stark relief just how untrendy he is, focussing on an apparent weakness. The accusations regarding his weaknesses he was never going to be able to rebut in a studio (remember Howard before the last election when he was confronted, in a one-on-one interview, with public perception of him? All he could say was he had much more to do. How impotent would Ming have seemed before that audience if he'd tried that one, the only sensible response?)The presenter stood up questioning him as he sat down, like Grandad in the old Werther's adverts.
In fact, as I pondered that he resembled a fairly impotent Werther's Grandad, I realised that was the core of the problem, contradictory, discredited political outlook aside. LDs can declare all they want that he brings statesmanlike poise - even this is seen too rarely - but even Werther's realise the days of Grandad appealing to the public are past. Their new adverts, screened for the first time this week, now feature an all action young middle-aged Dad. Werther's Grandad just doesn't cut the political mustard.
It wasn't just his image, of course, which contributed to such a dire performance. It was the substance of what he said. I was bellowing at the box as, when probed on his tax plans, he came out with this classic: words to the effect of "We would tax those who have benefited most from the long period of relatively prosperous economic stability".
He just doesn't get it does he. Aside from the fact that this proposal seems to run counter to his opportunistic desire to drop the party's commitment to raising top-level income tax to 50p in the pound, the relatively long period of economic stability and the prosperity we have all enjoyed as a result of this is exactly because those who may have benefited most have benefited most. They are the ones who have driven prosperity. They are the ones who have helped deliver it. It then became clear to me that, whatever noises the LDs make about a more genuinely liberal taxation system they remain old dyed-in-the-wool big state spenders and taxers. Ming sees those who do well out of capitalism as taking something which has been provided for them. For Ming the Government runs the economy, hell, it is the economy. He cannot accept that it merely manages aspects of a private economy driven by individuals and corporations. I discovered this morning that Ming's even been this explicit himself. There's even, in his eyes, a consensus around the current level of taxation being at the "correct" level.
How wrong he will be proven on this as well as on the success of his leadership is surely hinted at by this morning's unvaunted news. Britain's public finances suffered their worst-ever June. Government borrowing rose to £7.3bn in June from £6.2bn during the same month last year - significantly higher than analysts' forecasts of £6.5bn. A Ming-Brown consensus on sustained high tax-levels is not the solution, and with Grandad being coy about who he'd support in a hung Parliament, Grandad's bizarre fumbling for the right seems unlikely to help his failing leadership. Performances such as last night just make things even worse.