UPDATE 20:05 Following more than 24 hours of conspicuous silence from Kennedy (save an email to Clegg which they didn’t release) he will resurface tonight/tomorrow in an interview for Scotland’s Sunday Mail.
UPDATE 23:50 The full Mail interview isn’t online yet but AP has some quotes “It is absolute rubbish … I am not joining the Labour Party and have not had any discussions about it with anyone from the Labour Party … I will go out of this world feet first with my Lib Dem membership card in my pocket”. Very good, Charlie, but why didn’t you say that 24 hours ago? Not a very good week for Liberal Democrat pressers.
Where on earth is Charles Kennedy? It is now late afternoon and he still hasn’t gone on the record to quash speculation he is is plotting a defection to Labour. Denials, however strong, from “a spokesman for the Lib Dems” or “Lib Dem sources” simpy ain’t the same thing as word from Kennedy and, embarrassingly, leave the whole party establishment in the dark.
As Liberals scramble to cobble together a “this is a silly season rumour” narrative, the bog standard rebuttal from pundits has been backed up by arguments around timing. Iain Roberts writes on Lib Dem Voice:
“One thing would be very odd indeed were the story to be true: the timing. The information clearly hasn’t come from Kennedy, but from the Labour Party. Yet if a party – any party – has a defector crossing the floor, they move heaven and earth to time the news release for the maximum media impact; and that’s not in the dead days of August. The party conference season is just a few weeks away.”
However other sources have questioned the conventional wisdom of a conference season bombshell. Scrapbook can reveal one mooted strategy is a defection before September 1st, just in time to back the younger Miliband in Labour’s leadership contest:
“I’m told that he has been in talks with Ed Miliband and will be endorsing him. The plan would be to defect just before ballot papers go out so he has a vote.”
It is possible the whole thing will transpire to be a shot across Nick Clegg’s bows. But if Charles Kennedy’s intention to cross the floor is in doubt, his antipathy for the coalition is not. With a habit of missing whipped coalition votes, he reportedly remarked to one colleague “I don’t want to vote for these bastards”.
If he doesn’t go on the record soon just watch the negative briefings (and the muck) start to fly. With the copy deadline for Sunday papers looming large, Kennedy will be under enormous pressure to clarify his position.
The journalists will definitely be looking for Charlie this evening.