07 January 2006

He's gone

It had to happen. After months of backroom plotting, murmuring and rows, and following the farcical events of Thursday evening and the hysteria that subsequently engulfed the LibDems at Westminster, Charles Kennedy has, at last, resigned.

The big question is not "Who will succeed Kennedy?" This will be Sir Menzies Campbell, another Glasgow University man. The question is, "Will anyone dare to stand against him?" The next question is, "Who will succeed Campbell after the next Westminster election?"

For my part, the answer to the first question is yes. Simon Hughes was beaten by Kennedy and he must feel aggrieved right now: he will no doubt be thinking that the Party would have taken more inner-city seats from Labour and attracted yet more disaffected Labour 'core' voters (as they used to be) to his cause had he been in charge.

Matthew Taylor organised Kennedy's campaign. If there is a 'Kennedy Candidate' he would be a possibile name in the hat, despite his backing the rebels this week.

Mark Oaten may fall in behind Campbell as part of a 'Dream Ticket', securing the Deputy Leadership until the Elder Statesman retires, when in his mind, he'll have a good chance of winning.

Lembit Opik may put in a bid: Campbell's role in Kennedy's downfall is unclear, and it is felt that had he given stronger support to Kennedy then there would be no vacancy for the Leadership. As someone who has supported Kennedy more strongly than any of the other potential candidates, Opik may feel moved to stand, and his candidacy could undermine Campbell, but not sufficiently to cost him the Ledership.

Vince Cable may also stand. As one of the plotters-in-chief, he has no chance.

As to question two, it's a 50-50 between Mark Oaten, in my view the likely Deputy Leader following the Leadership Election, and Nick Clegg, the ambitious ex-MEP.

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