Is it going to be a choice between the two ex-MEPs?
Whether Ming Campbell or the party hierarchy like it or not the fight for the leadership has already begun. For a contest is not too far off – at the most three years away and possibly a lot lot earlier.
For whatever reasons question marks hang over the Edinburgh QC and former Olympic sprinter and Thursday’s disappointing election performances only underline his difficulties.
As we saw in the aftermath of last week almost every interview he gives includes probing about his leadership style and how long he will go on.
The only time Campbell has got a positive rating to YouGov’s “doing well-doing badly” question was in the week after his election in March 2006. Since then it has been almost all downhill. In April the pollster found a 27-45% split on the issue. Even when things were at their worst Charles Kennedy still managed a positive rating and only weeks before his departure he was at 45-37%.
No doubt when Gordon takes over the Tories will exploit the symbolism of the two men being Scottish neighbours to reinforce their portrayal of the Lib Dems as being an appendage of Labour – something that hasn’t always been helped by Campbell himself.
And so in the wings, being ever so loyal like all aspirants to the leadership of a party, are the two ex-MEPs who entered parliament only two years ago, Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne.
The former, of course, stood aside in January 2006 in favour of Ming and is well placed as the choice of the party establishment. Against him is Chris Huhne, who ran last time, and whose supporters over the long weekend were quietly pointing out that in their man’s area last Thursday the Lib Dems bucked the national trend.
For months both men have been assiduously getting themselves about within the party doing the “rubber chicken run” attending Lib Dem functions up and down the country.
The experience in the Lib Dems is that the candidate who is best known usually gets it. My guess is that Huhne and Clegg are about even on this count with all the other possibilities some way behind.
There’s no betting market at the moment but if there was my money would probably be on Huhne.