Yet in his time as party leader (1999 - 2006), he proved himself to be a politician of conviction - unlike many of his colleagues - particularly in his strong stance against the invasion of Iraq. History, it seems, has proven him right.
"Tomorrow Dr Hans Blix will report back on behalf of the Weapons Inspectorate to the United Nations. He has already made clear his conclusions are of an interim nature and there is every likelihood he will ask for more time. If so, it is imperative Britain supports him. This is not an argument for prevarication. It is logical.
We all accept the world would be safer without Saddam's baleful dictatorship. But I see no contradiction between abhorrence of his leadership and the profound anxiety many in this country feel about the way in which the Americans - with Tony Blair's support - propose to launch an invasion.
The case has not yet been made for military action. The evidence has not been clearly assembled. Public opinion in this country is profoundly opposed to unilateral action by US and British forces without a UN mandate and without clear evidence of the need for war. This is a moral as well as political dilemma, and there may well be circumstances in which British troops should not go to war; in which case we should be prepared to part company with the US.
A quarter of the British Army is on its way to the region. There, our soldiers will cease to be an independent force. The command relationship between the American and British contingents has not been publicly spelt out; but if a decision is taken in Washington to attack Iraq, whether or not our Prime Minister agrees, it is inconceivable British soldiers could stand back and leave the Americans to go it alone.
In the House of Commons I have asked the prime minister whether he would rule out unilateral military action without clear evidence and a UN mandate twice in the past three weeks. He has declined to respond, preferring to talk about the circumstances under which the British should actively engage at the American behest - neither a sufficient nor satisfactory answer. As a country we have to be clear about our intent as well as our interests.
The Government has failed to address either intent or interest. Ours is an alarmingly isolated position. Last week has seen Britain dispiritingly detached from our continental partners - notably Germany and France - making it even harder for the Prime Minister to claim to be 'at the heart of Europe' if he is not only isolated from discussions but seen as part of the problem.
I welcome the argument moving from ill-defined rhetoric about 'regime change' to the aim of removing any weapons of mass destruction from Saddam's grip.
Yet the logic and justification underpinning the Government's response to how you do that is far from clear.
Last September British security services published a dossier to coincide with the recall of Parliament. It said: 'Despite the conduct of the Iraqi authorities towards them, both Unscom and the IAEA Action Team have valuable records of achievement in discovering and exposing Iraq's biological weapons programme and destroying very large quantities of chemical weapons stocks and missiles as well as the infrastructure for Iraq's nuclear weapons programme.'
This balanced assessment may not sit easily alongside belligerent Bush rhetoric about the inspection process, but it is valid nonetheless. It makes more sense at this juncture to pursue a proven and effective inspection programme as the best means of Iraqi containment than to hurtle into war - indeed, that is why theLiberal Democrats remain emphatically the pro-UN party, rather than an all-out anti-war party.
Last week I wrote to the Prime Minister again, requesting a further parliamentary debate to properly consider the myriad issues involved. We need to understand the command structure envisaged for any military campaign. We need to know, if there is such a campaign, who will police the peace. The UN? This American administration - witness Afghanistan - has displayed noticeably less enthusiasm for dealing with the aftermath of conflict than for starting one. And what of the 90,000 British expatriates in neighbouring Middle East and Gulf states who could be in the front line of any terrorist backlash? These are legitimate questions the Government must answer.
The situation is rapidly developing into a test of confidence, in the Government and in Parliament. There is genuine public perception that we are being bulldozed into a war not of our choosing and not - on the basis of the evidence so far - vital to national interests.
If British troops are committed to action, then the nation will, of course, support them. Their courage and skill is not in doubt. But they and their families deserve a much clearer statement of aims than they have had so far from their political masters; we owe them that.
Meantime, Britain must stick to the UN route, use all available influence to press for the recommencement of the Middle East peace process, and ensure the House of Commons can record a definitive view, through a vote, on committing our forces to action.
It would be a tragedy if the remarkable international coalition against terrorism, successfully marshalled in the aftermath of 11 September, were to fragment over a unilateral US strike against Baghdad.
Military action may become necessary, but we are not there yet. There is a dreadful sound of an inexorable drumbeat and of moral dilemmas unvisited since Suez. The Prime Minister should listen to the British people. He and President Bush should take on board the very real sense of alarm."