Campbell emerges as favourite as leadership contest gets under way

Liberal Democrat MPs are readying themselves for two months of hustings around the country
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Indy Politics

Within hours of Mr Kennedy's resignation yesterday, senior Liberal Democrat MPs were privately letting it be known that Sir Menzies Campbell had the backing of enough MPs to enter a leadership contest.

Sir Menzies, who announced his candidature within 45 minutes of Charles Kennedy's resignation, is a former Olympic sprinter and QC, and is seen by many frontbench MPs as the candidate who can unite the party. But he will face stiff opposition from Simon Hughes MP, the party president and an experienced operator loved by the party rank and file.

Mark Oaten, home affairs spokesman, is also ambitious to lead the party and is said to have been privately canvassing support. But one of the dark horses who has impressed the Westminster press pack is European affairs spokesman Nick Clegg. Still only 39, he had already pledged support for Sir Menzies Campbell, and may make an ideal "running mate".

Each MP will require the nominations of seven MPs to back their nomination to be leader. They will then have to face a full ballot of party members who will elect the new leader by a one-member, one-vote proportional system.

The party's ruling body, the Federal Executive, will set the timescale for the contest. It is expected to take about two months and will involve hustings around the country.

The front runner

SIR MENZIES CAMPBELL, 64

Who is he? Elder statesman, deputy leader, former Olympic sprinter, cancer survivor and respected foreign affairs spokesman. He has harboured leadership ambitions before. He did not stand against Kennedy in the 1999 leadership contest, but later said he regretted it "for 10 minutes a day". The former barrister studied at Glasgow University and at Stanford in the US. He became an MP only at the fourth attempt, winning North East Fife in 1987. Knighted in 2004.

Backers: Most frontbench MPs, including key figures Sarah Teather, Nick Clegg, Ed Davey and Matthew Taylor.

Fans say: Hero of anti-Iraq-war campaign.

Opponents say: Patrician, too old, tainted by Kennedy ousting.

Activists' man

SIMON HUGHES, 54 MP for Southwark North and Bermondsey

Who is he? Darling of party membership. MPs, however, don't see him as team player.

Backers: Steve Webb, health spokesman.

Fans say: Principled, courageous.

Opponents say: Too earnest.

Decent bloke

VINCE CABLE, 63 MP for Twickenham

Who is he? Affable Treasury spokesman. Former economist at Shell. Has lent credibility to the Liberal Democrats on economics.

Backers: At this stage not known.

Fans say: Transparently decent.

Opponents say: Inconsistent and lacklustre.

Youth vote

MARK OATEN, 41 MP for Winchester

Who is he? Media-friendly home affairs spokesman. Backed Mr Kennedy while making no secret of his intention to stand as leader if he stood down.

Backers: Not clear.

Fans say: Has Cameron potential.

Opponents say: An opportunist.

Long shot

SUSAN KRAMER, 55

MP for Richmond Park

Who is she? Treasury spokeswoman, stood for London Mayor. Former vice-president of Citibank.

Backers: At this stage not known.

Fans say: One of the most able women in Parliament.

Opponents say: Self-publicist and too intense.

Two brains

DAVID LAWS, 41

MP for Yeovil

Who is he? Former investment banker and one of a group of prominent rightish, younger MPs.

Backers: At this stage not known.

Fans say: Very sharp brain, has Cambridge double-first.

Opponents say: Not a team player, too right wing.

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