Kennedy 'to remain above the battle'

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Indy Politics

Charles Kennedy effectively ruled himself out of the race to be the next Liberal Democrat leader, declaring that it was "extremely unlikely" that he would stand.

The former leader, who was dramatically ousted nearly two years ago, led a string of potential leadership hopefuls who have pulled out of the race.

Mr Kennedy said he had made his decision despite an e-mail survey on the BBC's Daily Politics show suggesting that 79 per cent of viewers wanted him to throw his hat into the ring.

He said: "Never say never in politics but as close to never as you can get."

Mr Kennedy told the BBC: "I have been at the receiving end over the last 24 hours of a lot of messages from around the country and I think, out of courtesy – because a lot of people have supported me through thick and thin over the years – I have to get back to them first. But I would not be holding your breath for any great puff of white smoke."

He declined to endorse any one candidate for the leadership, saying he would probably "remain above the smoke and the battle".

Mr Kennedy said: "I did not think there'd be a leadership vacancy in the Lib Dems in this parliament, and certainly not to contest one. I'm quite happy with the role I've got." He added: "At the moment, the party is facing clearly a bit of a squeeze between Labour and the Conservatives."

Yesterday, the field of contenders narrowed dramatically as the contest to succeed Sir Menzies Campbell moved towards the two or three-horse race anticipated by many of the party's MPs. The party's acting leader Vince Cable, 64, said he was too old to stand and he had decided an older candidate was not electable because of the "irrational prejudice" about the age of Sir Menzies. Ed Davey, Sir Menzies' chief of staff, ruled himself out of the running and backed Nick Clegg, the party's home affairs spokesman. Mr Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, said he could have secured enough support to make it on to the ballot but, with his first child due next month, he felt it was the wrong time to stand.

Susan Kramer, the transport spokesman, also said she would not stand. The Richmond Park MP told the website: "I've decided that the job of leader is not for me."

Simon Hughes, the party president; David Laws, its schools spokesman; and Julia Goldsworthy, a Treasury spokeswoman, have also ruled themselves out.