Kennedy under fire for lack of leadership qualities

Charles Kennedy is coming under mounting pressure to show stronger leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

As he is prepares to address the party's spring conference in Plymouth tomorrow, Mr Kennedy is being criticised by senior party members. One of the issues is his failure to reprimand peers who have angered the Government by repeatedly voting with the Tories on a series of issues such as the Bill to abolish the automatic right to trial by jury.

Most notably, senior Liberal Democrats have privately called for the sacking of Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, the party's leader in the Lords, after he attacked Tony Blairover the creation of life peers. Lord Rodgers caused uproar last week when he claimed that he had a letter from the Government in which the party was promised more life peers if it stopped voting against the Government. One senior party source said: "There is a lot of unhappiness about Bill Rodgers' behaviour. He made the party look foolish. Charles Kennedy should bring him into line or sack him."

Concern among some senior Liberal Democrats over the House of Lords has been fuelled by growing irritation in Downing Street. One Downing Street source said: "He has so far failed to impress. It is difficult to work out what he stands for and he does not seem in complete control of his party."

However, many Liberal Democrat activists, who have been critical of closer links with Labour, are likely to support greater distance between the parties. One well-placed activist said: "The grassroots were never that keen on closer links with Labour and will like that fact that peers have been very critical of the Government. It is only those who still dream of a coalition who are upset about what happened,"

Sources close to Mr Kennedy said he was building up his leadership and the party's own polling had shown that he was trusted and liked by the electorate. Mr Kennedy will devote much of tomorrow's speech to the environment.