Lib Dems step up pressure on Kennedy

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Indy Politics

Charles Kennedy faces renewed calls to quit this weekend in the increasingly bitter leadership struggle engulfing the Liberal Democrats.

Leading party figures are threatening to break cover after Mr Kennedy dismissed a grassroots rebellion that has seen 3,000 sign a petition calling for his resignation. He queried claims that one in 12 Liberal Democrat councillors have signed up.

His attempts to dampen the flames look set to fail, however. Ben Ramm, editor of The Liberal and the man who organised the petition, said: "What brazen arrogance to attempt to dismiss the views of those people who work week in week out for the good of the party!"

Mr Ramm, himself a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, is asking prominent signatories to break cover as MPs prepare to return to the Commons next week.

The leader will soon face two tests of his authority: on 9 January when he meets his senior colleagues for the first time in the new year; then the next day when he must address all 62 Lib Dem MPs, as well as endure what promises to be a testing session of Prime Minister's Questions.

The 46-year-old Mr Kennedy recently said that he will drink less - while insisting that he is, in any case, a "moderate" tippler - and that he would seek to give up smoking over Christmas.

* Mr Kennedy is to withdraw Lib Dem co-operation with Tony Blair over Lords reform. He has told colleagues he will "hang tough" over the issue unless Mr Blair promises to allow MPs a free vote on an elected upper chamber.