Sir Menzies Campbell, University chancellor and former leader of the Lib Dems, is retiring after 28 years as MP for North East Fife. In 2013, The Saint spoke to Sir Menzies about his life in parliament and the demands of the job. He described his first victory in the Fife area as the defining moment of his career. “It took me three attempts over 11 years. I reckon I drove 50,000 miles for those 11 years,” he said.
He pointed out that the last Liberal Democrat leader, Herbert Asquith, also represented his own home constituency of East Fife, so it was “very exciting” to be elected into a similar position.
Other highlights included holding on to that hard-won seat – “the first defence is always the most difficult” and then his time in Westminster as a “prominent part of the public face of the Liberal Democrat opposition to the Iraq War; ours was the only party that was opposed”, before being elected deputy leader and subsequently, leader.
He described how the demands of life at the top began to take their toll. “It gets more and more demanding. It’s very difficult to do now unless you actually physically live in London: I lived partly in Edinburgh, partly in Fife, while I was leader of the Lib Dems, which can be very difficult. The weekends were no longer quiet times: there are about five different political programmes on a Sunday in Britain, and it was a very odd occasion for the leader of General Elections 2015 Candidates Interviews a political party to not be on one of them.”
Described as the “mediator of party disputes” in The Telegraph’s list of the 50 most influential Liberal Democrats of all time, he had much experience dealing with skirmishes both within his own party, and between it and others.
When asked about the coalition government, he said: “The coalition has done what it set out to do, and its policies are now beginning to bear fruit. I’ve always said that it is a coalition of necessity, not choice, because of the dire straits that the country and the economy were in at the time it
“We’ve had the lowest interest rates, we’ve had very low mortgages that have helped people, the pound is stable and the stock market has improved. Now we have to convert those achievements into a real increase of the standard of living for the population of England.”
When asked why he has chosen to retire, he replied: “Because it is better to leave when they are staying ‘why are you leaving?’ than when they are saying “why are you still here?”