August is not known as the silly season for nothing. Parliament is in recess, many across the country are on holiday. There is less real news. But media outlets still have to garner viewers, sell papers, and thus the rumour mill has the tendency at this time to go into overdrive without anyone stopping for anything so inconvenient as a reality check.
So it has been in the last few days with the story that former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy was about to jump ship and join the Labour Party. Kennedy is on the Social Democratic wing of his party, that part which evolved from the early 80s split from Labour. For any of the Social Democrat tendency to join Labour would be the biggest of asks: Roy Jenkins gave significant praise to Tony Blair, but the thought that he might go further and rejoin his old party never entered.
So why has the rumour about Kennedy gained traction? It may be that, as Sunny Hundal has noted today on Liberal Conspiracy, there has been a deliberate move by Kennedy – and possibly others on the Social Democrat wing of the Lib Dems – to let the party’s leadership know of their unhappiness with the direction being taken, or at least plotted, by the Coalition. Charlie is savvy enough to be able to know where to drop the necessary hint in order to set the hare running.
Also, there is the habit of many in the media of “guilt by friendship”, such as suggesting that Menzies Campbell was politically close to Pa Broon merely because the two were on good terms. Why should they not be? The two men represented adjacent constituencies, and would have needed to discuss anything of a cross boundary nature. But the idea that Ming was closer to Labour as a result is laughable.
Westminster politics is, by and large, a highly tribal business. But that does not prevent those involved from occasionally dropping the public displays of combative excess in favour of agreeable conversation. Charles Kennedy being found chatting with a Labour whip may, on this occasion, have been no more than that.