Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Sir Menzies Optimistic on Party's Future

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Sir Menzies Optimistic on Party's Future

Article excerpt

Byline: By Ross Smith

January has been painful for the Liberal Democrats. Ross Smith speaks to the man trying to put the party back on track.

A few short months ago, the Liberal Democrats were riding high in the North-East.

They took control of Durham City Council in 2003, won Newcastle a year later, and then Fiona Hall became the party's first Euro-MP in the region. Last year they slashed several Labour majorities at the general election.

The hoped for breakthrough which would have seen them take a parliamentary seat failed to happen but recent boundary changes suggest the window of opportunity could still be there next time around.

And then, within a fortnight, it all came crashing down.

First, leader Charles Kennedy resigned after admitting he had been receiving treatment for alcoholism.

The shocks continued into the leadership election, as Mark Oaten pulled out ahead of revelations he had secretly visited a male prostitute.

And just yesterday, party president and fellow contender Simon Hughes revealed he had concealed gay relationships.

The man charged with guiding the party through these stormy waters, interim leader Sir Menzies "Ming" Campbell, who was campaigning in the North-East yesterday, admitted: "We've had a few turbulent weeks. But the important thing to remember is the party's much bigger than any individual. And what I've found as acting leader is an enormous desire on the part of members of the party at every level to ensure that we attend to the important political agenda."

Former Olympic sprinter Sir Menzies' aim is to turn his temporary position into a permanent one.

To do that, he must overcome Mr Hughes and relative unknown Chris Huhne in the leadership contest.

Sir Menzies is adamant the troubles of January will not still be casting their shadow when the gains of the 2004 Newcastle landslide are defended in May. …

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