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Sir Menzies Campbell

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Sir Menzies Campbell

The Right Honourable
Sir Menzies Campbell
Leader of the Liberal Democrats
In office
2 March 2006 – 15 October 2007
Deputy Vince Cable
Preceded by Charles Kennedy
Succeeded by Nick Clegg
Chancellor of the University of St Andrews
Assumed office
9 January 2006
Preceded by Sir Kenneth Dover
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats
In office
12 February 2003 – 7 January 2006
Leader Charles Kennedy
Preceded by Alan Beith
Succeeded by Vince Cable
Lib Dem Foreign Affairs Spokesman
In office
7 May 1992 – 7 January 2006
Leader Paddy Ashdown
Charles Kennedy
Preceded by David Heath
Succeeded by Michael Moore
Member of Parliament
for North East Fife
Assumed office
11 June 1987
Preceded by Barry Henderson
Majority 9,048 (22.6%)
Personal details
Born (1941-05-22) 22 May 1941 (age 73)
Glasgow, Scotland
Political party (1) Liberal Party
(2) Liberal Democrats
Spouse(s) Elspeth, Lady Campbell
Alma mater University of Glasgow, Stanford University
Profession Politician, advocate, sprinter
Religion Presbyterian

Sir Walter Menzies Campbell CH CBE QC MP (/ˈmɪŋɨs/; born 22 May 1941), often known as Ming Campbell, is a British Liberal Democrat politician and advocate, and a retired sprinter. He is the Member of Parliament (MP) for North East Fife, and was the Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2 March 2006 until 15 October 2007.[1]

Campbell held the British record for the 100 metres sprint from 1967 to 1974, having run the distance in 10.2 s. He captained the Great Britain athletics team in 1965 and 1966. He is currently the Chancellor of the University of St Andrews.

Education and early career

"Menzies" is a Scottish name, originally written Minȝies, the "z" being a graphic approximation of the (Middle English) yogh (ȝ), originally found in the name. Born in Glasgow, Campbell was educated at Hillhead High School and the University of Glasgow, graduating with a Scottish Master of Arts (MA) in 1962 and a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) in 1965.[2] He was elected President of the Glasgow University Liberal Club in 1962, and of the Glasgow University Union for 1964–65.[2] He was involved in debating at the Union and with the Glasgow University Dialectic Society, where his contemporaries included Derry Irvine, Donald Dewar and John Smith, who attempted to recruit him for the Labour Party. He later received a scholarship to study at Stanford University in California.

Campbell qualified as an advocate before he became a politician. He was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1968 and became a Queen's Counsel in 1982. He specialised in planning and licensing law. He ceased to practise as an advocate in 2003, but returned to practise in January 2008.

Campbell married Elspeth, Lady Grant-Suttie, daughter of Major General Roy Urquhart, in June 1970. The couple have no children, but Lady Campbell has a child from her previous marriage.[3]

Athletics career

A successful sprinter at university (he broke Olympic gold medalist Wyndham Halswelle's 53-year old Scottish 300 yards record in 1961),[4] Campbell competed for the Great Britain team in the 200 metres and 4x100 metres relay at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo,[5] and captained the Scotland team at the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica. He also captained the Great Britain athletics team in 1965 and 1966, and held the British 100 metres record from 1967 to 1974. At one time he was known as "the fastest white man on the planet",[6] running the 100m in 10.2 seconds twice during 1967.[7]

Member of Parliament

Campbell became chairman of the Scottish Liberals in 1975, and was a candidate at various general elections between 1974 and 1983. After three failed attempts, he was finally elected as Member of Parliament, for North East Fife at the 1987 general election but has not lived in his constituency during his tenure as MP, although he owns a holiday home there.

He was made the Liberal Democrat chief spokesman on foreign affairs and defence in 1992. He considered standing as a candidate to replace Paddy Ashdown as party leader in the 1999 leadership election but ultimately decided against it. He later said that he regretted that decision "for about 10 minutes a day". He was also one of twelve candidates for the position of Speaker when Betty Boothroyd stood down in 2000, but he lost out to Michael Martin.

Campbell was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of cancer, in 2002; he underwent a course of intensive chemotherapy before going on to make a full recovery.

Campbell replaced Alan Beith as deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in February 2003 and on occasion acted as stand-in Leader of the party. He took over in the general election campaign for three days from 12 April 2005 when Charles Kennedy took paternity leave.

Liberal Democrats Frontbenches

As foreign affairs spokesperson, Campbell was prominent in the Liberal Democrat opposition to the 2003 Iraq War, repeatedly arguing that the British government should publish the Attorney General's secret advice on the war's legality and criticising Tony Blair's support for President Bush. In 2004, Campbell set out his view of the Anglo-American relationship in the context of an unjust war: "For more than 60 years we have been engaged in an intimate and rewarding relationship with the United States. We must not allow our foreign policy to be defined by that relationship. We have to recognize that the World's most powerful English-speaking nation will always be a powerful influence upon us. Given what we share, it could hardly be otherwise. But a relationship with the United States based on the flawed principle, "my ally right or wrong" is not only profoundly illiberal but will be unsustainable as well."[8]

Leader of the Liberal Democrats

On 7 January 2006, Campbell became interim leader following Kennedy's resignation, before winning the subsequent leadership contest. Despite his relatively advanced age compared to the leaders of the other two main parties, Tony Blair and David Cameron, he started as the front-runner in the 2006 leadership election, backed by more than a third of Lib Dem MPs as well as party notables such as David Steel, Shirley Williams and Paddy Ashdown. As the race drew on, it appeared that Chris Huhne, initially the outsider, was rapidly gaining support, and Huhne became the favourite with the bookmakers,[9] but Campbell regained ground.

On 2 March 2006, Campbell was declared leader of the Liberal Democrats after winning the leadership election under the Single Transferable Vote method. The first-round votes placed him well in the lead, at 23,264 to Chris Huhne's 16,691 and Simon Hughes's 12,081. A tearful Simon Hughes was accordingly eliminated, and his second-preference votes were split between the two remaining candidates. The final result was Sir Menzies Campbell at 29,697 and Chris Huhne at 21,628 on a 72% membership turnout.[10]

Campbell promoted many younger MPs to his Liberal Democrat Frontbench Team including former MEP Nick Clegg as Home Affairs spokesperson and 26-year old Jo Swinson as Scotland spokesperson.

A few weeks prior to Campbell's election to the party leadership, the Liberal Democrats won the Dunfermline and West Fife seat from Labour in a by-election. This was viewed as a major victory for Campbell and as a particular blow to then Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown, who lives in the constituency, represents the adjacent seat, and featured prominently in Labour's by-election campaign.

Questions over leadership

However, questions were raised over Campbell's early performances at the weekly Prime minister's questions,[11] leading him to declare himself "perfectly confident" that he could fulfil the role of party leader.[12] Campbell regained some ground with the controversy over the US practice of "extraordinary rendition",[13] the case of the NatWest Three,[14] and the conflict in Lebanon.[15]

According to polls published in July 2006, twice as many voters preferred Charles Kennedy as leader over Campbell, which led to further criticism of Campbell's leadership.[16] Kennedy however called rumours that he considered challenging for the leadership as "fanciful".[17]

The University of St Andrews awarded an honorary doctorate of law to former President Mohammad Khatami of Iran, which sparked some criticism, although as Chancellor he is only the titular head and not involved in such decisions.[18][19][20] Khatami was elected as President of Iran in 1997 and 2001, both occasions on platforms of social and political reform and a "Dialogue Among Civilizations" that put Khatami significantly at odds with his conservative successor, President Ahmadinejad.

Shortly before Gordon Brown took over as Prime Minister in June 2007, Campbell was invited to a meeting with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. Brown surprised Campbell by requesting that two Liberal Democrats (Lord Ashdown and Lady Neuberger) join his cabinet. After taking 24 hours to consult and consider, Campbell rejected the offer as unworkable, given the gulf between the parties on issues of foreign policy and civil liberties. Labour leaked news of the meeting to the media and went behind Campbell to offer the job of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to Ashdown anyway; he turned it down.[21]

After intense speculation in late 2007, Gordon Brown announced there would be no general election in 2007. Following this announcement, Campbell's leadership again came under question, with some in the party feeling that now the heat was off the time was ripe to get a younger leader potentially more capable of connecting with voters. On 15 October, Campbell's deputy Vince Cable conceded on BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme that Campbell's position was "certainly under discussion", adding "I don't think it's under threat", but on the same programme party stalwart Sir Chris Clarke advised Campbell to "go with dignity and go back to being foreign affairs spokesman, where the world listens to you."[22] Later the same day, came an announcement by the party that Campbell would step down as leader.[23][24]

Resignation of leadership

Campbell resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats on 15 October 2007. The announcement was made from the steps of Cowley Street by Party President Simon Hughes. Alongside him was deputy Leader Vince Cable, and they praised Campbell's leadership and said the party owed him a debt of gratitude. In his letter of resignation, addressed to Hughes, Campbell stated, "It has become clear that following the Prime Minister’s decision not to hold an election, questions about leadership are getting in the way of further progress by the party".[25] Cable became acting leader of the Liberal Democrats until a leadership election could be held.[26] Campbell became the first elected leader of the Liberal Democrats who left the leadership without ever leading the party to an election.

Following the resignation, a leadership contender, Nick Clegg, alleged that Campbell had been a victim of ageism throughout his term as party leader saying he had been treated "appallingly" and subject to "barely disguised ageism".[27] Concerns about ageism directed at Campbell from the media had also been raised by the charity Age Concern in September 2006. Gordon Lishman the director of the charity said "the recent media coverage poking fun at Sir Menzies has brought to light the age discrimination that is epidemic in the media and society". Attacking media coverage that seemed to focus on his age, Lishman added "clearly the media needs to update its attitudes and get with the times; people are living and working longer and age discrimination is out dated".[28]

Expenses claims

Sir Menzies Campbell reportedly claimed in the region of £10,000 over two years to redesign his flat in London, which included the purchasing of a king-sized bed, scatter cushions and a small flat screen television. It was also claimed that on occasions Campbell spent eight hundred pounds a month on food. Campbell said he believed that the claims were "within the spirit and letter of the rules" as the flat had not been renovated for 20 years.[29]

Retirement from the House of Commons

On 9 October 2013, Campbell announced that he would stand down as a Member of Parliament in at the 2015 general election. He said: "It is always a regret to begin the process of retiring from the House of Commons but I believe now is the time to start".[30] Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg paid tribute, saying Campbell "served this country and our party with unparalleled distinction".[31]

There is speculation that he is to be offered a seat in the House of Lords,[31] as well as concern that his resignation could see his party lose the North East Fife constituency in the 2015 election.[30]


Campbell's political beliefs can be summarised as those of a moderate social liberal.

Campbell has promoted policies to shift taxation away from "goods" such as employment and towards "bads" such as pollution through a revenue-neutral restructuring of the tax system that maintains the current tax burden whilst lifting two-million low-paid individuals out of income tax altogether.[32]

Campbell's primary area of interest is acknowledged to be foreign policy. He strongly supports multilateral institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations but argues that the European Union must reform to become more democratic and the United Nations must develop new mechanisms for dealing with humanitarian crises.[33] He has also been critical of what he claims as the “disproportionate military action” employed by the Israeli Defence Force in Gaza and in Lebanon, contending that Israel’s tactics exacerbate existing tensions and lead to human rights abuses.[15] Though a supporter of Anglo-American cooperation, Campbell has argued that the Bush-Blair relationship was one-sided and that the Labour government pursued it at the expense of Britain's standing in other international institutions, particularly the EU and UN.

Although never going so far as to advocate direct affirmative action policies (such as Labour’s all-woman shortlists), Campbell has stressed the need for the Liberal Democrats to provide extra support for female, disabled and ethnic minority candidates seeking to contest winnable seats.[34]

In July 2007, Campbell unveiled his new tax proposals. These amount to a large shift in the tax burden (certified as revenue-neutral by the non-partisan Institute for Fiscal Studies) away from low-income and middle-income earners and onto higher-earners and pollution. This is to be implemented by cutting the basic rate of income tax from 20% to 16%, closing £13.5 billion of tax loopholes for high-earners and imposing larger green taxes on polluters. Campbell said of the proposals that "the unacceptable reality is that in Britain today the poorest pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than the super-rich" and that his aim was for "the rich and people with environmentally damaging lifestyles to pay a fairer share".

Campbell is currently a member of the Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation, established in October 2009.[35]


Campbell was appointed Commander of Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1987 New Year Honours;[36] he became a Privy Counsellor in the 1999 New Year Honours;[37] and he was knighted in the 2004 New Year Honours for services to Parliament.[38] He was appointed Companion of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2013 Birthday Honours for public and political service.[39][40]

Campbell has honorary degrees from the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde. He was the only person nominated to succeed Sir Kenneth Dover after he retired as Chancellor of the University of St Andrews on 1 January 2006, so took office immediately after nominations closed on 9 January 2006. He was installed as Chancellor on 22 April 2006, at which time he also received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

It has been reported that Campbell is being considered for the post of High Commissioner to Australia; this has been reported by The Guardian to have been stalled as it would trigger a by-election in Campbell's constituency at a time when the Liberal Democrats are doing very poorly in the polls.[41]


External links

  • Ming Campbell MP official website
  • Rt Hon Sir Menzies Campbell CBE QC MP Liberal Democrats profile
  • Sir Menzies Campbell CBE QC MP Scottish Liberal Democrats profile
  • Parliament of the United Kingdom
  • Contributions in Parliament at Hansard 1803–2005
  • Hansard
  • The Guardian
  • Public Whip
  • TheyWorkForYou
  • Profile at Westminster Parliamentary Record
  • Profile at BBC News Democracy Live
  • Articles authored at Journalisted
News articles
  • 1999 New Year Honours (BBC News, 31 December 1998)
  • Campbell abandons Lib Dem race (BBC News, 27 May 1999)
  • Review of 1999: Menzies Campbell (BBC News, 30 December 1999)
  • Who will replace the Speaker? (BBC News, 17 July 2000)
  • Cancer treatment for Lib Dem Campbell (BBC News, 22 November 2002)
  • Lib Dems elect deputy leader (BBC News, 12 February 2003)
  • Campbell heads political honours (BBC News, 31 December 2003)
  • The Guardian, 16 December 2005
  • Steve Bell's cartoon expressing concern for Campbell's leaning to the right. 3 March 2006.
  • Ashdown gives Sir Menzies backing (BBC News, 9 January 2006)
  • What to call Ming's backers? (BBC News, 9 January 2006)
  • Why is Menzies pronounced Mingis? (BBC News, 10 January 2006)
  • University of St Andrews Press Office, 11 January 2006)
  • Menzies Campbell profile (BBC News, 15 October 2007)
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Barry Henderson
Member of Parliament for North East Fife
Party political offices
Preceded by
Russell Johnston
Chairman of the Scottish Liberal Party
Succeeded by
Fred McDermid?
Preceded by
New position
Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesperson
Succeeded by
Michael Moore
Preceded by
Alan Beith
Deputy Leader of the British Liberal Democrats
Succeeded by
Vince Cable
Preceded by
Charles Kennedy
Leader of the British Liberal Democrats
Succeeded by
Nick Clegg
Academic offices
Preceded by
Sir Kenneth Dover
Chancellor of the University of St Andrews

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