Politics: Who Next Could Lead The Party Of Gladstone, Lloyd George, Thorpe And Steel?

Charles Kennedy

Far enough ahead as the favourite that activists say they can almost smell the power passing when he enters a hall. Backed by party grandees. With Scottish Home Rule imminent, being the MP for Ross, Skye and Inverness West may be his biggest handicap.

Odds: 2-1

Simon Hughes

The traditional activist's choice, a sniper at Ashdown's Lib-Labbery. Dropped out of contest to be mayor of London. The MP for Southwark and Bermondsey has kept a low profile. Seen by many as too much the old Liberal "pavement politician".

Odds: 100-30

Don Foster

Most prominent of candidates favouring coalition with Labour, fully signed up to what is called "the Project" and dreaming of a seat in Tony Blair's Cabinet. A teacher turned party education spokesman, he is expected to get the backing of young rising party stars.

Odds: 10-1

Nick Harvey

Once said to have the backing of Paddy Ashdown. Has abandoned his euro- scepticism just in time for the contest. Defended his "Damascene conversion" saying the single currency had got off to a good start and Britain should be setting a date for entry.

Odds: 5-1

David Rendel

Strong support among councillors. Trying to shed his bland image. Winner of the Newbury by-election, he won plaudits in holding the seat at the general election. Opposing further slide to Labour, he has made a modest impact lately defending pensioners.

Odds: 10-1

Jackie Ballard

Would be a favourite if she had more Westminster experience. Elected for Taunton in 1997, she is a good media performer. A critic of close ties with Labour, has the in-vogue style of a no-nonsense fighting woman epitomised by Ann Widdecombe.

Odds: 15-1

Malcolm Bruce

Seen as very much an outsider but he is an experienced Commons performer who has eventually mastered his Treasury brief. As the MP for Gordon he suffers, as does , from being a Scot, viewed as slightly adrift in the post Home Rule world.

Odds: 20-1

Menzies Campbell

Will not commit himself until after the 6 May elections. Popular in Scotland, the barrister MP would have been a powerful figure in the Holyrood Parliament. However his age counts against him and the NE Fife MP's moment for glory has probably passed.

Odds: 5-1

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