Charles Kennedy rejects leadership allegations

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Charles Kennedy, who stepped down as leader of the British Liberal Democrats party this January, is planning a fresh campaign for his old job, according to today’s News of the World. But Mr Kennedy, who resigned after admitting he had problems with alcohol, has dismissed such reports.

A senior party source claimed Mr Kennedy is holding weekly meetings with key aids about preparing to contest the Liberal Democrats current leader, Sir Menzies Campbell. It is also claimed Mr Kennedy is “deadly serious” about the challenge.

The source added that if Sir Menzies fails to deliver at this September’s Liberal Democrat conference, the bid could be mounted then, but it is more likely to come after the next General Election, which is expected to take place in 2010.

Mr Kennedy’s key advisors, which apparently includes the head of campaigns Lord Razzell, are said to be planning a tactic to oppose a potentially damaging biography of Mr Kennedy which is due to hit the shelves later this summer.

In a response to the allegations, a statement released on behalf of Mr Kennedy by the Liberal Democrats said: “As everyone knows, long-standing friends and political colleagues remain close to me. We meet frequently and it is simply fanciful to read anything else into such a normal ongoing state of affairs.”

Lord Newby, who was Mr Kennedy’s chief of staff during his reign as Liberal Democrat leader, called the story “ridiculous”.

Sir Menzies, who was chosen by party members to head the party in March, has been criticised over his performance as leader, especially during Prime Minister’s Questions. On Friday, Peter Black, a Liberal Democrat Welsh Assembly member, issued a cutting attack on the 65 year-old, telling him to “shape up”. A recent poll also says that support for the Liberal Democrats has slumped to its lowest point since 2002. The Guardian/ICM survey put the Liberal Democrats at 17%, with the Conservatives on 39% and Labour on 35%.

However, Sir Menzies told BBC Newsnight recently that he “would not be judged by opinion polls after a few months”. He also said: “If I didn’t think I had the energy, the values and the judgement to be the leader of the Liberal Democrats, I wouldn’t have offered myself for the job.”