Nick Harvey MP: 'His position is untenable - why he can't see it is hard to guess'

He has lost the confidence of his parliamentary colleagues, the world knows it, and consequently his position is totally untenable.

If 11 members of the Cabinet had signed a letter declaring that they had no confidence in Tony Blair, there would be no prolonged debate about whether he had to go. He would out on his ear straight away. Why Charles and his inner circle cannot see this is hard to guess, but a state of denial seems to be ongoing.

The problems with the Kennedy leadership are not primarily concerned with his drinking habits. The biggest difficulty is that, after six-and-a-half years in post, it remains devilishly tricky to guess where he is trying to take us.

As liberal democracy strives to redefine itself for the 21st century, its principal flag-bearer seems to be sitting by as a passive observer rather than offering any sort of lead.

And, despite his effectiveness as a broadcast interviewee and positive approval ratings with the public, at Westminster he is no sort of team captain. Aloof, remote, and cocooned by his team of advisers, he is a remote figure from many of the colleagues among whom he is supposed to be primus inter pares.

What we need now is a real leadership election, between the two credible but strongly contrasting candidates - Menzies Campbell and Simon Hughes.

This would give party members the opportunity for a real debate, and a decision about which direction to head in.

There is far more which unites Liberal Democrats than which divides us. I know of no one in our ranks who is not motivated by a strong ambition to achieve greater social justice in Britain. We are all committed to individual liberty. We are all internationalists, and all environmentalists. What genuinely divides our ranks is economic liberalism. Here some of us believe there is no scope for even higher taxes and more spending, but much scope for individual choice and competition. Others reject this, preferring a more Butskellite social democratic agenda with a greater role for a bigger state.

A debate now, through the vehicle of a leadership election, would be cathartic. It would convince the country that we are not to be bystanders.

While I have a clear preference, either outcome would be better than the current directionless drift. A new leader with a strong mandate and a supportive parliamentary party is urgently needed.

Nick Harvey is the Liberal Democrat MP for Devon North