Kennedy takes charge of faltering mayoral campaign

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Indy Politics

Charles Kennedy is to take personal charge of his party's London mayoral challenge in an attempt to beef up the Liberal Democrats' standing among the electorate in the capital.

Charles Kennedy is to take personal charge of his party's London mayoral challenge in an attempt to beef up the Liberal Democrats' standing among the electorate in the capital.

The party leader has summoned the campaign team working for the Liberal Democrat candidate, Simon Hughes, to an urgent meeting to explain, why they are not making more progress against Steve Norris, the Tory contender.

At a confidential meeting of MPs last week, Mr Kennedy made it clear he was unhappy about the way the election battle was going and said he wanted a personal explanation from Mr Hughes' campaigners. The dressing-down, in front of the entire parliamentary party, follows concern among a number of MPs that the Liberal Democrats may come third in the London campaign.

Party sources said Mr Kennedy's intervention in what has been a more or less autonomous campaign illustrated "the depth of unease" within the Liberal Democrats. One MP said: "Charles did call them to account and said he wanted to see them all in his office. It was quite unusual for him to do that."

Several MPs raised concerns about Mr Hughes's campaign at the meeting and some want Lord Rennard, the party's campaigns and strategy chief, to take personal charge. A YouGov poll this week showed Mr Hughes trailing in third place on 17 per cent of the likely vote, having made no progress since the campaign kicked off. Steve Norris is on 27 per cent while Ken Livingstone has extended his lead with 41 per cent of the likely vote.

Lord Rennard said yesterday that he still believed the Liberal Democrats were on course to overtake Mr Norris and beat Mr Livingstone. He challenged the accuracy of the polls and said his party's canvass returns showed their candidate was gaining support. "This is early days in the campaign. We are not accepting there is a 10 point gap between Norris and Hughes," he said.

"Things have definitely been moving in Simon's direction in the last few days and he is on course to win. He's the only candidate who can defeat Ken Livingstone and Labour and the Tories know it."

Mr Hughes said: "The public have not started to look seriously at the elections yet. we are getting very good feedback from the ground."

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