Lib Dems fight amongst themselves over base closures

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by a Newsnet reporter

The painting the Raft of the Medusa by French artist Théodore Géricault depicts the tragic and horrible events following the sinking of a French navy ship in the early 19th century.  Survivors of the wreck found themselves cast adrift on an unsafe and unstable raft in the Atlantic Ocean, at the mercy of the storms.  Soon all thoughts of social cohesion broke down and the survivors began to fight amongst themselves in order to save their own lives.  There is a similar atmosphere within the Lib Dems just now.

As the party continues to plunge in opinion poll ratings, the rifts within the sinking Lib Dems have burst into the open with an extraordinary attack on Danny Alexander MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the Coalition government, by his party colleague Menzies Campbell.  Mr Campbell claimed that Mr Alexander ensured that Leuchars was closed in order to protect his consituency interests and boost his faltering reputation.  Mr Campbell’s remarks were published in an interview in the Times newspaper yesterday.

Speaking to the paper, Mr Campbell said: “It’s a remarkable coincidence that these decisions [to close Leuchars] should have been thought to assist the political credibility of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.  Or is it?  The result of the closure of Leuchars is that the RAF has been banished to the north of Scotland.  The Army’s preferences have been met at the expense of proper strategic analysis.”

Mr Campbell said that he believed Mr Alexander had used the weight of the UK Treasury in order to help him win a constituency battle.  The decision reduces the number of job losses in Mr Alexander’s own constituency at the expense of job losses in Mr Campbell’s.

Many Lib Dem MPs feel that Mr Alexander has not done enough to ensure that a distinctive Lib Dem voice is represented in the Treasury.  Such a public disagreement with one of the party’s most senior and influential figures could potentially be politically dangerous for the ambitious Treasury Secretary as he runs the risk of becoming seen as the principal target for Lib Dem dissatisfaction with the Coalition.  

This is not the first time that Menzies Campbell has attacked Danny Alexander over the issue, but Mr Campbell’s attacks have previously been more veiled.  At defence questions in the House of Commons in March this year, Mr Campbell asked about the future of RAF Leuchars in his North-East Fife constituency. Reminding ministers that planes had once again recently been scrambled from Leuchars to protect the UK, he pointedly attacked “Treasury briefings” aimed at closing the base.

This followed comments from Mr Alexander, who recently told journalists that he had warned the Ministry of Defence against creating hotspots of economic problems when closing bases.  This was seen as a reference to RAF Lossiemouth, which is the main alternative for closure to Leuchars, and where many of Mr Alexander’s constituents work.

The SNP put forward the case for both Lossiemouth and Leuchars to remain open.  Commenting on the extraordinary spat, SNP MSP for North East Fife Rod Campbell said:

“The Lib Dems have been busy settling scores and Scotland’s air bases have paid the price.

“This is an astonishing dispute between two of the leading figures in the Lib Dems and shows how bad their battle for survival has become.

“Instead of getting together to fight for the best deal for Scotland and protect both Leuchars and Lossiemouth, it would appear the personality clashes between Menzies Campbell and Danny Alexander allowed the coalition to cut the RAF in half in Scotland.

“This is an extraordinary attack that suggests the Lib Dems are more interested in self-preservation than protecting the people they represent.

“In contrast the SNP in Government and as a party backed both bases and made the strategic case for protecting Leuchars and Lossiemouth from cuts.”

 

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