Tributes poured in for Charles Kennedy in the wake of his resignation as Liberal Democrat leader, with party members applauding his "courageous" decision to bow out.
The party's president, Simon Hughes, was among the first to pay tribute, saying: "Today is a thank-you day to Charles and Sarah and a sad day for us. But it's a day that will let liberalism move on. There are certainly many people who feel Charles Kennedy was badly treated."
Sir Menzies Campbell, deputy leader of the Lib Dems, commended Mr Kennedy for his "dignity" and "courage". He said: "Under his leadership the party has advanced to its best position for 80 years and will for ever be in his debt. We must wish him and his family well."
Mr Kennedy's predecessor, Lord Ashdown, also hailed his achievements. "The Liberal Democrats owe him a great debt as the leader who presided over the highest number of seats and greater share of the popular vote for Britain's third party in living memory," he said.
Other party members were united in anger at the brutal treatment of Mr Kennedy by colleagues who had campaigned to oust him from the top. The Northern Ireland spokesman, Lembit Opik, said: "I'm really sad about it. He was the right man to do the job and he has been hounded out by people who didn't appreciate his qualities. But he has put the party first and that was the right decision."
A more outspoken reaction came from the Scottish National Party leader, Alex Salmond, who said: "[He] confronted his problems and appealed for support, but his MPs have responded by knifing him in the front. Julius Caesar was better treated by Brutus than Charles Kennedy was by his colleagues."
The Lib Dems' home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, said: "It's a really sad day for the party, and I'm upset, frankly. He was hounded out."
EDITED EXTRACT OF THE RESIGNATION STATEMENT
I wished to make a statement this afternoon having, as I said yesterday evening, reflected over the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.
On Thursday afternoon I said that I thought it was only fair to give our party members their say over my continuing leadership.
Accordingly, I requested the opening of a leadership election. Since then it has been open to any other Liberal Democrat MP to announce their candidacy and to stand against me. None have decided to do so.
In the recent weeks and days I have been inundated by messages of support from party members and activists throughout the country. It means a great deal to me. Many, many of them have made the point to me that we founded this party on the fundamental principle of one member, one vote. I urge them to exercise that right in the leadership election which now follows.
However, it is clear now, that such support is not reflected strongly enough across the parliamentary party. Accordingly, I am announcing that when nominations open for the leadership I shall not now be putting my name forward. And I am standing down as leader with immediate effect.
I have been in politics for far too long to be overly sentimental about this sort of moment. However, I would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to the many colleagues and friends who have helped sustain me through my years as party leader. They are far too numerous to mention individually, save one - and that person is Anna Werrin. A finer friend and colleague you could not wish for - throughout my first 23 years in politics.
Personally and politically, the support of my wife, Sarah, and our respective families remains beyond adequate tribute - but they know the sincerity of what I am saying today.
The new leader can be assured of my loyal support as a backbench Liberal Democrat MP. We are established as serious players in the changing reality which is three-party politics across Britain. I believe that to be a good inheritance and a great opportunity, one in which I look forward to continuing to play my part.
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