'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Page 3 Girl, Me and Ming

As the news breaks of Ming's decision to step down from The Commons at the next election, many folk will rightly be writing tributes to the great man, and his important contribution on so many issues, most notably perhaps foreign affairs.

So I hope he will forgive me if I write about a more personal Ming experience that I think demonstrate so many of his finest qualities.

I had volunteered to help at HQ in the 2005 General Election, and so one evening found myself in the 'war room' at Cowley Street, for a session of 'media monitoring' - checking we got our fair share of the news coverage. When I arrived, I found apart from my fellow monitors, there were a few advisers in the war room - and Ming Campbell.

This was the election when Charles Kennedy had become a father, and he had gone on a few days paternity leave, and Ming was acting leader. It was already late - and shortly after I arrived, Ming announced that if there was nothing else, he was leaving for the evening.

After a pregnant pause, someone in the room ventured that in fact he did have one more thing to do - because it was the night of his dinner with the Page 3 girl.

Now, it probably seems unlikely now, but in 2005 The Sun had decided to 'award' each of the three main parties it's own Page 3 Girl, who was touring the country extolling the virtues of their party of choice.

The group explained to Ming that it had been agreed with The Sun that each of the party leaders would have dinner with 'their' Page 3 Girl - and that night was the Lib Dems turn. Charles had been due to go to dinner, but now Ming was acting leader - he was expected.

I'll always remember Ming replying to this news with the statement that he was sorry but that he had already arranged to have dinner with his wife.

Now, imagine what we going through Ming's mind at that moment, Firstly, I'm willing to bet that he's not the greatest fan of Page 3. But this was The Sun, Murdoch, and all that entailed. Plus remember why I was there - media monitoring; this was a time when we struggled to make sure we got our fair share of attention. But Ming wasn't cowtowing to them for a second.

Secondly, he was clearly genuinely horrified and disappointed at the prospect of not having dinner with his lovely wife  Elspeth. General elections are tough, and opportunities to see your nearest and dearest are few and far between as it is. Plus calling Elspeth to tell her she was being stood up for a Page 3 Girl wouldn't be much fun either.

And then, while Ming was clearly not up for this, you could see he was thinking about not wanting to let whoever he was potentially having dinner with down - the chance to spend time with any senior politician is a rare treat and he probably knows it. Plus he is a man with a huge sense of duty, and duty appeared to be calling.

You could see all this going through his mind. And oh how I felt for him.

And then the group around him all started giggling. For of course, there was no such dinner arranged. It was all a wind up - and a very well played one.

And when the penny dropped, Ming laughed like a drain.

A gentleman, a man with a great sense of duty, a family man, and great fun.

We'll miss his wisdom.

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