While I was away at the weekend someone sent me an email message with a huge attachment that clogged up my inbox. As a result a whole load of messages bounced back to the sender including one from David Steel in support of Ming's campaign and has created a stir over at Liberal England .
The first thing that occurs to me is why the Ming campaign has used Steel and Shirley Williams for their last-minute email messages to members. I would have thought that most people who would be influenced by either of them would already be voting for Ming. Instead, I would have tried to find Ming supporters from the more radical wing of the party to woo those members who consider Ming a bit too establishment.
The second thing is that while everybody loves Shirley there are many Lib Dems, including myself, who would be actively put off by a message from Steel. It's not so much the way he facilitated the creation of the SDP, rather than just encouraging Roy Jenkins to join the Liberals.
It's more that during the eighties, when the both the Tories and Labour left a huge gap in the political centre, Steel abdicated all intellectual leadership and missed a real opportunity for the centre party. Because he took no interest in policy or philosophy, he allowed David Owen to set the agenda for the Alliance. Because he failed to understand the significance of the failure of the 1974–79 Labour government, he didn't understand Thatcherism nor have any idea how to react to it. As a result he failed to move the thinking of the Liberal Party forward and allowed it to become a bit of an intellectual desert.
In an article in liberator a couple of years back I outlined at greater length my views on the horror of Steel's leadership.