Are colleagues ready to slam the door on him?
All the focus today is on the Lib Dem leadership and how senior MPs respond to his challenge at an angry meeting of his Shadow Cabinet that if any of them have doubts they should ” come to him by tea-time today and say so.”
According to the Times this morning:- “Facing an unprecedented crisis of confidence, the Lib Dem leader tried to stamp on speculation by urging his most senior colleagues to stop briefing against him and rally behind him. But his plea was rejected when he faced 30 minutes of criticism of his leadership style, with senior figures insisting that the issue could not be shelved any longer. In a move that appeared to have been forced by Mr Kennedyâ€™s critics, his Chief Whip, Andrew Stunnel, is to task members of his 23-strong Shadow Cabinet over whether Mr Kennedy retains their confidence and how tensions in links with the leadership can be settled.”
According to the Guardian Kennedy has stated that if a leadership election was forced on him then he would run. “.. aides confirmed that he explicitly stated that he intends to fight the next election as leader – and will stand for the post if rivals try to oust him. There were immediate claims that both Sir Menzies Campbell, Mr Kennedy’s long-serving deputy, and Simon Hughes, his defeated rival in 1999, would run if there is a contest – though both have said they would not stand against the leader. Mark Oaten, the most ambitious of the party’s younger MPs would also be expected to throw his hat into the ring. “It could depend on whether Charles is genuine about saying he’d stand,” said one MP as more senior members of the Lib Dem frontbench obeyed Mr Kennedy’s injunction not to fuel the rumour mill by talking to the press. A Kennedy ally said later: “If there’s a contest Charles will run. So there is no question of a contest because he would win.”
Barely ten weeks ago it looked a near certainty that the leadership line-up for the next General Election would be Gordon Brown, David Davis and Charles Kennedy. Could it be that none of them will make it?
Although the final decision on who should be Lib Dem leader is by a membership ballot they can be deposed if a no confidence motion is agreed by a majority of MPs. As a result of a rule change in September candidates in a leadership election have to have the support of at least ten per cent of the parliamentary party – which now would mean seven MPs.
Many of Kennedy’s supporters point to the continued support that he gets personally in opinion polls. But the question that is usually asked is not whether electors rate him as a potential Prime Minister but whether they are satisfied with the way he is doing his job. The latest numbers, by MORI from August, give him a 46-26 rating. The YouGov question is “Do you think Charles Kennedy is doing well or badly as Leader of the Liberal Democrats?” and when this was last put in April he scored 60-25.
So will Lib Dem MPs say Charles should go? If there is a leadership election will Kennedy stand? And if there is a membership ballot with his name on it would he win? All good questions which, hopefully, we will be able to bet on.