Sunday’s telephone call by Charles Kennedy to the David Frost TV programme to say that he was definitely staying as Lid Dem leader has sparked more activity on the betting markets. This was not the move of a man confident of his position.
In all the talk on Charles Kennedy’s future the question always arises as to what circumstances would lead him to go. No one can envisage the LDs doing what the Tories did to IDS last autumn. The only way that Charles Kennedy could be replaced as leader would be if he voluntarily stood aside and his call on Sunday indicates that he probably won’t.
But there is another scenario that a number in the party are talking about. Firstly everything will be put on hold until after the “Super Thursday” Euro, local and London elections on June 10. The party’s whole platform for the General Election is based on establishing even further its credibility on that day. With its poll standings higher than at any time for two decades the LDs look set to make a huge breakthrough.
In the June post-election euphoria the leadership issue could be raised because the opportunity facing the party would be enormous and the desire to hold and build on the expected successes would put the focus on Charles Kennedy. What could the Lib Dems achieve if the leader was someone who had real gravitas such as Menzies Campbell?
Nobody can dispute that the party has made huge progress under Kennedy and it would be ironic if a move on the leadership took place in the aftermath of such good election results. But would the party have done better with somebody else?
The central figure here would be Lord (Chris) Rennard, the party’s Campaign guru who directed Liberal Democrat parliamentary by-election successes from Eastbourne (1990) to Romsey (2000), was responsible for the party’s target seats campaign which resulted in 28 gains at the 1997 General Election, and with Lord (Tim) Razzall was in charge of the party’s successful 2001 General Election campaign.He became Chief Executive last October.
Rennard is the man who has made the modern Liberal Democrats and holds great sway. If he felt that the party could capitalise more fully on its position with Campbell as leader then he could raise the issue with Charles Kennedy. In those circumstances there is little doubt that Charles Kennedy would step down.
But does Rennard hold this view and would he have the conversation? We’ll have to wait until after June 10 to find out.