We have just asked Sir Menzies Campbell when he last poked someone. The face of the Liberal Democrat leader registers utter astonishment, a flush of alarm then a hint of anger. Poking is, we hurriedly assure him, a technical term, from Facebook, which he was the first party leader to sign up to.
“Ah. I was encouraged to do that . . . I’ve got someone who monitors it for me because there are quite a lot of other things going on,” he says.There is a good headline for the piece:
He's no chat-show Charlie, but there is zing in the old Ming yet
The Times journalists appear to have picked up Ming's briefing paper for the interview, which is fascinating:
“You should assume,” the adviser wrote, “that Alice and Helen are coming into the room expecting to find someone who is old, tired and lacking in the vision that leadership requires. For the interview you need to bear this in mind by being positive, purposeful and by being relaxed when they ask personal questions.”
There is an interesting glimpse into Ming's personal life:
...his marriage to an older single mother in a whirlwind romance..."we met, engaged and married in three months. My wife said she held her nose and jumped.”
Was that a bit sudden? “Sudden for someone as serious as me?” he said, smiling. No, we meant to take on a five-year-old boy at the age of 29? “I’m choosing my words with some care because I’m exceptionally fond of him and he, I think, is exceptionally fond of me. But I never set out to replace his father. His father was charming, quixotic, and I hope you might describe me as charming, but I don’t think you’d ever describe me as quixotic.”
His stepson never called him Dad, preferring, as everyone does, “Ming”.Gratefully, the passage of a year has led to Ming now being able to talk specifically about current Coronation Street characters (last time he was asked about it he talked about Bet Lynch):
“Strong women, weak men,” is his verdict. “Rita is much tougher than Norris. And Deirdre’s much tougher than Ken. If you look, that’s the kind of genre of Coronation Street.”
The interviews tends to dwell on personal stuff but there is this telling exchange about politicians interfering in people's personal lives:
We ask ... what he thought of modern politicians’ attempts to influence all sorts of personal issues, including women’s decisions about marriage, children and work.
“Might I take issue?” he asks politely but with steel. “Look at the way in which the role of women has changed. Look at the extent to which, unheard of only a few years ago, there are women who are storing their eggs because, for the moment, they want to concentrate on a career and they haven’t found someone that they want to spend the rest of their lives with.
“And that’s free personal choice. Just as our free personal choice did not result in any children. I can’t emphasise enough my sense that these are whole areas of life that politicians should keep out of. And other than supporting the family, however it’s constituted, then I believe that very strongly.”It is a classic liberal stance, and in keeping with his sense that private lives – his own included – are not for career exploitation