Does the party want to make it harder for the leader to be replaced?
We might get a better idea about Charles Kennedy’s standing amongst Lib Dem activists following a decision to ask next week’s party conference to change the rules to make it harder for somebody to mount a challenge for the party leadership.
In what could be a dangerous move for Kennedy delegates will be asked to change the current system where the support of two of its 62 MPs is needed for a challenge, to a new requirement that seven Lib Dem MPs should support the move.
A two-thirds majority is required at the conference for the change to come in effect. If that is agreed then it would certainly make Kennedy’s position more secure though allowing delegates to discuss an issue directly related to the leadership has the risk of exposing a can of worms that might be regretted.
Ever since Kennedy pulled out of the Budget debate in March 2004 there have been rumblings about his leadership in some quarters. Only in June he had to issue a strict warning against those members of the parliamentary party who were alleged to be “briefing against him”.
There are those who say privately that Kennedy’s heart is not in it or that the party should have made much more of the 2002-2003 period when the Tories still had IDS and Labour was preoccupied with Iraq. However it cannot be denied that while he has been in the top job the party has progressed.
The current plan seems to get this rule change through a conference now when delegates are likely to be in celebratory mood.
We do not expect many in Blakpool to raise the General Election objective set by Kennedy for the party just a year ago. Then the target was to move to replacing the Tories as the main opposition party. While, unlike the Tories, the Election campaign saw them win over many Labour voters the May result was soured by the net loss of seats to Howard’s party.
If Kennedy can convince his party that he has the qualities to achieve the elusive Lib Dem objective of appealing to right and left at the same time then his position is secure.