Judge us by our MPs, says Campbell

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He was referring to Liberal Democrat MPs' reputation for the hard work they put in on constituency problems, rather than the scandals that have rocked the party in the past two weeks. "Look at the quality of our MPs in Cornwall, how they fight for their constituents - that commitment I want to see the party demonstrate throughout the UK," Sir Menzies said during a visit to the Eden Project.

Mark Oaten, the former home affairs spokesman, remained out of sight yesterday as his chances of surviving in politics diminished, and the local newspaper in his Winchester constituency clamoured for his resignation. An editorial in the Southern Daily Echo said the sexual allegations about Mr Oaten could not be seen as a private matter and if they were true he should leave the House of Commons.

Mr Oaten resigned his position as home affairs spokesman after revelations about male prostitutes but allies in his local party want him to stay at Westminster. James Wagner, a Winchester councillor, said: "I was as shocked as anyone else, but he is probably the best constituency MP in the country."

Allies of Sir Menzies have suggested that the scandal, which has led to a drop in support for the Liberal Democrats in the opinion polls, will increase the possibility that party members will vote for a familiar elder statesman rather than take a risk with a younger candidate.

Sir Menzies' main rival for the leadership, Simon Hughes, was in the north of Scotland yesterday seeking support for his campaign.