British Liberal Democrat politician
Born 1941

A former British Olympic athlete and Scottish advocate, Menzies Campbell has been the Member of Parliament for Fife North East since 1987 and was briefly the Leader of the Liberal Democrats between March 2006 and October 2007.

Early Life

Walter Menzies Campbell was born on the 22nd May 1941 in Glasgow where his father ran the city council's building department. A leading member of the Liberal Democrats, he is better known as Menzies Campbell or, since the Scots tend to pronounce Menzies as 'Mingus', more simply as Ming Campbell.

Ming was educated at Hillhead High School in Glasgow, before attending Glasgow University. There he was President of the Glasgow University Union in the years 1964-1965 and graduated MA Arts in 1962, LLB Law in 1965, and afterwards went to Stanford University in California where he studied International Law in 1966-1967. Whilst at university he competed in athletics events as a sprinter and was a member of the British squad at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and represented Scotland in the 1966 Kingston Commonwealth Games in Jamaica, although he failed to win a medal at either competition. He also captained the United Kingdom athletics team in 1965 and 1966, and held the British record for the 100 metres (10.2 seconds) from 1967 to 1974.

However athletics, certainly in the 1960s, was no way to earn a living, and on his return from California he naturally chose the Law as his profession, being called to the Scottish Bar in 1968 and later serving as an Advocate Depute (public prosecutor) in the Crown Office between 1977 and 1980 and was appointed Queen's Counsel (Scotland) in 1982.

Political Career

Ming had joined the Scottish Liberal Party whilst he was at university, successfully resisting the attempts of his contemporaries Donald Dewar and John Smith to persuade him to join the Labour Party. Between 1975 and 1977 he was Chairman of the Scottish Liberal Party and contested the Greenock and Port Glasgow constituency in the February and October 1974 General elections without success. He thereafter switched his attention to East Fife, or Fife North East as it became in 1983 after some boundary changes. Although a safe Conservative seat at the time, this had once been Liberal territory and held by Henry Herbert Asquith no less, and was to prove more promising ground. He was eventually successful in winning the seat at the General Election of June 1987 with a majority of 1,447 and has since been able to increase the size of Liberal Democrat majority to more than 12,500.

He became the Chief Liberal Democrat spokesman for Foreign Affairs and Defence in 1992, and retained that position until 1997 when he became Shadow Foreign Secretary, adding the responsibilities of Deputy Leader in 2003. Although he considered entering the contest to replace Paddy Ashdown as party leader in 1999, he ultimately decided against putting himself forward, claiming at the time that he believed that the party needed "rather more emollient qualities in its leader than I possess". Although Ashdown himself believed that the real reason was that Ming knew that he could not have the leadership "on his own terms". Which is to say that he wanted to continue with Ashdown's strategy of seeking coalition with the Labour Party at a time when the rest of the party did not. (A policy that was often characterised as being more or less solely concerned with the elevation of Ming himself to the post of Foreign Secretary in a Lib-Lab government, and was thus popular with Ming himself.)

Since that time he has battled cancer (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma) from which he has recovered after a course of chemotherapy and has been given a clean bill of health.

Ming had a good war, as they say, winning for himself a high media profile as one of the leading critics of Tony Blair's decision to support the second Gulf War in 2003, although the whispers are that he wasn't quite as steadfast in his opposition to war as was Charles Kennedy. It may well be that this fed his ambition and encouraged him to think of himself as a potential successor to Kennedy. Indeed he is regarded in some quarters as one of the key men who stuck the knife into Charles Kennedy when the opportunity arose.

When Charles Kennedy was forced to resign as party leader in January 2006, there was talk that the party should simply anoint Ming as leader, particularly after Kennedy's favoured son Mark Oaten was forced to withdraw from the contest after certain revelations about his private life became public. In the event it became a three-cornered contest between Ming, Simon Hughes and the relatively unknown Chris Hune. With the vocal support of the ex-leader Paddy Ashdown and a clear majority of the parliamentary party, Ming was always the clear favourite to win. The result announced on the 2nd March 2006 proved to be a decisive win for Ming, as he won 44.7% of the first preference votes and was the second choice for just over half of the third placed Simon Hughes's voters. (Naturally the Liberal Democrats conduct their leadership election by Single Transferable Vote.)

Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Noted for his elegant manner and dress sense Ming was described by The Financial Times as "experienced, statesman-like and well mannered" and a man "who can hold the party together". But although he displayed a mastery of his pet subjects of foreign affairs and defence policy, he proved shakier on domestic issues, whilst his reputation as the 'unity candidate' in the leadership contest was largely based on his ability to avoid showing any indication as to which side he favoured in the ongoing split between the so-called 'economic liberal' and 'social liberal' factions within the party. (Simon Hughes was regarded as the representative of the left inclined 'social liberal' faction, whilst Chris Hune was the candidate supported by the right-wing 'economic liberal' wing of the party, otherwise known as the Orange Bookers.)

Given the revelations regarding Kennedy's drink problem and Oaten's sex problem, the party faithful seemed to have regarded Ming as a safe pair of hands who had long since learned to take his drink and was unlikely to be jumping into bed with any rent boys in the forseeable future. However at the time of his appointment as leader this author noted that the trouble was that Menzies Campbell was sixty-four and might well be nearer to seventy by the time that the next General Election was fought, and expressed doubts as to quite what the British public would make of an old age pensioner campaigning against the likes of the dashing young David Cameron.

This indeed turned out to be the problem which wasn't helped by the fact that Ming's performances in the House of Commons were rather lucklustre and sometimes even downright feeble. Within a few weeks of becoming leader he had a little spat with party president Simon Hughes in May 2006 after the latter appeared to suggest more effort should be put into the leader's performance. Thereafter the whispers of discontent continued and although Ming consistently pledged that he would lead the party "into the next election and beyond", doubts about his position grew even stronger during the summer of 2007 when the opinions polls showed the level of support for the Liberal Democrats had shrunk to between 11% and 16%, or somewhere between half and two-thirds of the level they enjoyed at the last General Election.

Having made his most recent denial that he had any intention of resigning, shortly after 5.30pm on the 15th October 2007, Simon Hughes made the announcement that Campbell would be resigning with immediate effect and that Vincent Cable would take over as acting leader pending the election of a new leader. Campbell himself was apparently too upset too appear before the cameras in person, issued a very brief statement, and claimed that he would not hold a press conference or issue anty further statement on the issue. (Although he later relented and did just that.)


Ming Campbell was awarded a CBE in 1987 and knighted for "services to Parliament" in the 2004 New Year's Honours List. He has served on the Parliamentary Select Committees for Members' Interests 1988-1990, Trade and Industry 1990-1992, Defence 1992-1999 and the Joint Cabinet Committee 1997-2001, and was appointed a Privy Councillor in 1999.

Outside Parliament he has been a member of the Scottish Sports Council 1971-1981, chaired the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, Edinburgh 1984-1987 and sat on the Broadcasting Council for Scotland 1984-1987. He is currently a member of the Clayson Committee on Liquor Licensing Reform in Scotland, is on the Board of the British Council and is a trustee of the Scottish International Education Trust and is also a part-time Chairman of the Medical Appeal Tribunal and the VAT Tribunal for Scotland. He was most recently elected unopposed as the Chancellor of St Andrews University in January 2006.

Since 1970 he has been married to Elspeth Urquhart, former wife of the Canadian-born baronet Philip Grant Suttie, and eldest daughter of Major General R.E. Urquhart who commanded the British First Airborne Division at the battle of Arnhem.


SOURCES

  • About Ming Campbell http://www.campbellcampaign.org/about/
  • Sir Menzies Campbell CBE QC MP http://www.libdems.org.uk/party/people/rt-hon-sir-menzies-campbell-cbe-qc.html
  • Nick Assinder, Profile: Sir Menzies Campbell, Thursday, 2 March 2006 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4591336.stm
  • Michael White, Old pope, orange hope The Guardian Thursday March 2, 2006 http://politics.guardian.co.uk/libdems/comment/0,,1722004,00.html
  • David Howarth, Questions Menzies Campbell Must Answer, Guardian Newspapers, 9 January 2006 found at http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/1-9-2006-85881.asp

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