LibDems Call on Sir Menzies to 'Do Right Thing' and Step Down; Simon Hughes: 'Must Do Better' under Pressure: Sir Menzies Campbell Is Facing Renewed Demands That He Quit as Party Leader

Article excerpt

Byline: Ian Drury

SIR Menzies Campbell's grasp on the leadership of the Liberal Democratslooked increasingly fragile last night as MPs urged him to 'do the right thing'and step down.

MPs admitted 'serious concerns' that the party would continue to haemorrhagebadly in the polls if he was not rapidly replaced by one of the youngergeneration.

Sir Menzies had been empowered by the prospect of a snap general election - butwith that cancelled, and the LibDems suffering a catastrophic loss of momentum,questions about his stewardship have resurfaced.

Sources within the party yesterday warned angry MPs might consider a 'putsch'against the 66-year-old at some point before Christmas.

But MPs believe it would be better for Sir Menzies and the party - stilltraumatised by the brutal knifing of former leader Charles Kennedy over hisdrink problem last year - if there were a graceful handover of power.

One well-placed source said: 'There is no plot but pressure is certainlybuilding. If Menzies loses the confidence of those closest to him, things willmove fairly fast. It would cleaner for this to be resolved amicably and withdignity.' Sir Menzies, the MP for North-east Fife, has repeatedly made clear heplans to lead the LibDems into the next election.

But last month's party conference was marred by a spat between home affairsspokesman Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne, the environment spokesman - the so-called'young Turks' widely tipped to succeed Sir Menzies.

In the wake of Gordon Brown's decision not to hold an election, the LibDemshave sunk to distressing lows in the opinion polls.

An ICM survey yesterday had them on just 14 per cent, compared to the Tories on43 per cent and Labour on 36 per cent.

The bad news came hot on the heels of humiliating figures showing only one infour LibDem supporters believed their leader would make the best PrimeMinister..

The party's grass roots are also said to be in 'open revolt' over the reversalin fortunes, as support appears to be swinging towards David Cameron'srejuvenated Conservatives.

Fresh doubt was cast on Sir Menzies' future when party president Simon Hughes,who fought the last leadership election, used a television interview to expressimpatience.

Mr Hughes said: 'The leader obviously has to do better, get better at gettingthe message across better, at getting the policy out better. …