Campbell named as clear Lib Dems' victor

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Sir Menzies Campbell was today elected the new leader of the Liberal Democrats. He secured 29,697 of the votes from party members, defeating his nearest rival Chris Huhne, who won 21,628.

Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem president, came third, having been knocked out under the party's transferable vote ballot system in a first round of voting.

Sir Menzies, the party's deputy leader, has been standing in for Charles Kennedy since he quit earlier this year after admitting a drink problem.

In the first round of voting, Sir Menzies polled 23,264, Mr Huhne 16,691 and Mr Hughes 12,081.

After Mr Hughes's second preference votes were re-distributed, the final tally of the 52,036 votes was Sir Menzies 29,697 and Mr Huhne 21,628, on a 72-per-cent turnout of the membership.

Both the two beaten candidates said Sir Menzies would have their full support, and stressed the unity of the party.

Sir Menzies told supporters at the count, in Westminster's Smith Square: "Today is a victory not for me but for all Liberal Democrats. We have confounded our critics who wrote us off."

He also paid tribute to the "legacy" left by Mr Kennedy.

Both defeated candidates pledged their support to Sir Menzies.

Mr Huhne said the new leader had a "hard-won and decisive mandate to lead this party to new advances with the backing of all of us".

He said the "thoughtful and good-tempered contest" had shown the party was the most united in Britain around the key issues.

Party members had made "the right decision", he conceded.

"Collective wisdom is often so much greater than individual wisdom and Ming has undoubted authority, experience and credibility.

"I look forward to being a part of his team taking us to greater success."

Mr Hughes said: "I am absolutely clear that this party has a great future; I am absolutely clear that liberal democracy has a great future; and I am absolutely clear that we will go, Ming, under your leadership from strength to strength towards the government that Britain desperately needs and that we are all so unitedly determined to achieve."