Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past month, or mentally tuning out any news stories containing the dreaded ‘P’ word, you will have noticed that the beloved Charles ‘Chat Show’ Kennedy has been troubled lately by questions of his leadership aboard the good ship Lib Dem. There have been a number of rumours about senior party members and MPs being unhappy with the way he has run things since the last election, and poor Charles has been running around like a headless chicken trying to reassure everyone that he’s still the right man to lead the party.
Personally, I think Kennedy is safe enough for the time being, due to a number of factors. First and foremost, the Liberal Democrats are generally amicable towards their leader, even if they don’t particularly like him, unlike Labour where there are undoubtably several senior figures just waiting for the right moment to make Blair walk the plank. Kennedy can also take comfort in the fact that his party is nowhere near as predatory as the Conservatives, who fight leadership elections almost as often as they do local and general elections.
Secondly, there aren’t that many people who are capable of mounting a serious and realistic challenge to Kennedy’s leadership. With only 62 MPs as potential successors, the list of candidates is already much shorter than that of the Conservatives or Labour. Again, this situation differs sharply from the Conservatives, who often have four or five candidates throwing their hats into the ring at every leadership election.
The Lib Dems also have little to gain by gunning for a change in leader. Kennedy is reasonably charismatic and seems generally well-liked by the public - a claim that neither Blair nor Howard could honestly make during the last general election campaigns. Sure, he’s probably not going to take the party into number 10 this time round, but then neither is anyone else. At the moment, all a leadership challenge, and the media frenzy that would inevitably surround it, would do is benefit the other two main parties, especially the Tories who would have an opportunity under Cameron to steal back some ground that the Lib Dems have encroached upon.
Assuming for a moment though that the Lib Dems really do want a change at the top, who could be the next leader? BBC News has an article on Lib Dem leadership options, but most of the candidates they present aren’t serious contenders. The only two who really hold enough support in the party to stand on their own are Simon Hughes and Sir Menzies Campbell, both of whom are, in my opinion, unlikely to mount a leadership challenge but would probably put themselves forward for the job if Kennedy stepped down of his own accord. Even then, Cambell is getting on a bit and at 64 might be considered to be to the Lib Dems what Michael Howard was to the Conservatives - a caretaker leader there to stop things falling apart whilst the party looks for a more long term leader.
There’s been a lot of media reporting on this possible ousting of Kennedy, so I’ve provided a number of links to stories from BBC News and Guardian Unlimited if you wish to read further around the subject.