Could Blackpool be a turning point?
Before the Betfair betting exchange felt it had had to get respectable it ran lively markets on whether politicians and others apparently in trouble would hold onto their jobs. The whole David Kelly affair and the Hutton inquiry had very lively betting and Charles Kennedy’s failure to make his party’s response after the 2004 budget statement saw the money piling on both for and against the Lib Dem leader.
Sadly we cannot bet on this sort of thing anymore and Kennedy will go to his party’s conference in Blackpool next month without punters trying to determine his future by putting his every move under close scrutiny.
For the reception he gets and talk in the bars at the Lancashire seaside resort in five weeks time could hold the key as to whether he goes on.
The judgement of many in the party is that while the Lib Dems have done well under his leadership it has perhaps nor done well enough. During the two years while the hapless IDS was leading the Tories and Labour was split over Iraq then surely the Lib Dems should have made greater progress.
Last year the message coming from Kennedy was that they intended to replace the Tories as the main party of opposition. Well in terms of seats won they are much further away from this goal than they were a year ago. The Tories might not be going anywhere but they are not going back either and Kennedy has not shown how he can eat into both the Labour and Tory vote shares at the same time.
But increasing the parliamentary party to 62 MPs and then holding off the enormous challenge in the Cheadle by-election last month have been real positives for the leader.
It is hard to envisage circumstances in which Kennedy could be ousted – so the real question is whether he wants to go on? Does the leadership make him happy? It does not appear to.