Is Andrew Neil right about Kennedy going?

Is Andrew Neil right about Kennedy going?

    Who would become the next Lib Dem leader?

In his “This Week” programme on BBC 1 late on Thursday night the veteran political commentator and ex-Sunday Times editor, Andrew Neil, made this statement – “I have heard that Charles Kennedy will stand down at the Lib Dems Spring Conference”

This does not appear to have been picked up elsewhere and although there has been much discussion on the position of the Lib Dems in the David Cameron era the suggestion that Kennedy has actually decided to call it a day has not been mentioned. Yes – there has been speculation but, as far as I can see, nobody has been more unequivocal than Andrew Neil.

    For a couple of years now the view has been that the parliamentary party, would, if pushed, want Kennedy to stay because they fear that the party membership at large would elect Simon Hughes.

An obvious short-term replacement would be Menzies Campbell who was very ill at the time of the last contest and did not let his name go forward. Campbell will be 65 next May and has built up a formidable reputation over Iraq. A politician of real gravitas who would contrast sharply with the young Cameron.

Also with gravitas and a growing reputation would be the party’s Treasury spokesperson Vincent Cable who is two years younger and could take the party to the next General Election. In September Cable made the controversial suggestion that the party could cut a deal with the Conservatives in the event of a hung parliament.

The new crop of Lib Dem MPs from May contain a number of potential leaders but they really need to make their mark first before facing a leadership election. Two former MEPs Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne fit into this category.

There are names like the “not-publicity shy” Lembit Opik and Ed Davey who could be contenders. Also to consider is the well-attired ex-city banker, David Laws and possibly the Home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten.

So that makes nine separate options and I’m sure I’ve over-looked some. But for a leadership election there needs to be a vacancy and unless Andrew Neil is right Charles Kennedy looks set to remain. But it would be good to have another leadership betting market between now and whenever Tony Blair finally throws in the towel.

Mike Smithson

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