Charles Kennedy has promised his critics a new "direct and aggressive" style but he has also come under pressure to clear the air by calling a vote of confidence in his leadership.
The Liberal Democrat leader came out fighting after his Christmas break yesterday, but he has failed to halt the tide of speculation about his future. A growing number of his MPs now want the leadership question to be settled one way or the other when they return to Westminster next week to prevent the party limping on until the local authority elections in May.
Mr Kennedy warned that a leadership contest would overshadow the party's election campaign but conceded that there might be one. "There is no need or desire for a leadership election," he told the BBC. "I think it would be terribly distracting for the party if there was one. But I certainly won't stand in the way of one and if there is one I will be a candidate."
The leader stressed there were no circumstances under which he would walk away from his job and that he was ready to raise his game. "If I did not think that was the case I would have no hesitation whatsoever in suggesting somebody else should be doing it," he said.
Relishing the battle ahead to prove David Cameron, the Tory leader, was not a "liberal," he said: "The fluff and nonsense of the honeymoon period of the new Conservative leadership, far from endangering the Lib Dems, should embolden the Lib Dems. That is what we are going to do and we are going to do it under my direct and aggressive leadership."
But two more Liberal Democrat MPs defied by Mr Kennedy by calling publicly for his leadership to be put to an early test. Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, said there should be a vote of confidence among MPs next week. Mr Carmichael said: "What I am talking about is a mechanism by which we can resolve the issue, hopefully once and for all."
Susan Kramer, MP for Richmond Park, said the party could not continue to let the leadership issue "bleed". Calling for an election she said: "We have lost control over this issue. I think it's time we went back very quickly to our membership and asked them for a verdict."Reuse content