Betting options dry up on Menzies
If the reported plans of a “senior group of Lib Dem MPs” come to fruition then we could see Sir Menzies Campbell in place as Leader of the party within a matter of weeks. According to reports over the holiday weekend the party’s 64 year old Foreign Affairs spokesman is being lined up replace Charles Kennedy in a putsch.
The idea is to present Kennedy with a list of signatures calling on him to resign in favour of Campbell. Like the succession of Michael Howard to the Tory leadership in November 2003 there would be no other candidates thus avoiding the need for a membership ballot. The move is being given credence by the reported decision of Simon Hughes not to challenge for the leadership.
Certainly it is very hard getting a bet on Campbell at the moment. There’s is almost nothing available on the betting exchanges and most bookmakers seem to have suspended their Lib Dem markets
While all the focus has been on the internal machinations a bigger question is what such a change would do to current political trends – particularly the surge in support for the Tories following the election of David Cameron. A second new party leader within a couple of months would change the whole political landscape. Campbell would certainly enjoy media honeymoon making it a bit tougher for the Tories to attract Lib Dem support?
Looking at the way the polls have moved since October the Tory surge has been almost totally at the expense of Labour – with the Lib Dems still on about 20%. A change-over to Campbell would certainly reinforce that and there could be a bounce.
The danger with a leadership coup, as Michael Heseltine can testify, is that the assassin does not usually get the top job. This would be even more the case with the Lib Dems because the leader is chosen by a ballot of the entire membership. It is widely thought that Kennedy is much more popular amongst the membership and activists than he is at Westminster and any candidate involved in a coup could be punished.
That’s why the current “Campbell Coronation” plan is appealing to those trying to force a change. One candidate means no membership ballot.
Ironically the changes in the party rules agreed at the Blackpool conference in September might make this strategy easier to achieve. For to get on the ballot a candidate needs the support of seven of the 62 MPs. Prior to September all that was needed was a proposer and a seconder. At the time it was thought that the change helped Kennedy – but making it more difficult for other candidates to stand increases the likelihood of just Campbell’s name going forward.