The scenarios facing Kennedy

The pressure from MPs for a clean break becomes unstoppable as the men in sandals lay down an ultimatum and insist game is up. Mr Kennedy decides his position is irrecoverable and resigns ahead of a humiliating showdown first with his shadow cabinet and then with MPs.

Likelihood - The most probable outcome

* FACES A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE - AND LOSES

The leader struggles through the weekend, only to face a formal vote of confidence when Parliament returns next week.

If Mr Kennedy loses, the vote would have no formal effect and would not stop him standing in a leadership election in the country. But losing confidence of MPs would deal him a shattering blow.

Likelihood - Second favourite

* FACES A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE - AND WINS

Loyalists fend off pressure for a secret ballot and try to force critics into the open. MPs then back Mr Kennedy to stay on a show of hands. Mr Kennedy wins an apparent reprieve, but leaves the parliamentary party split down the middle and politically crippled.

Likelihood - Seems impossible now

* WINS A POLL OF PARTY MEMBERS

Rebel MPs fail to force Mr Kennedy out, leaving him to fight it out with one or more rivals in a vote of party members. Mr Kennedy returns with a mandate to lead, but the party remains dogged by splits at Westminster, and unprecedented public questions about trust in a leader still fighting a drink problem.

Likelihood - Kennedy's best hope

* REMAINS AS LEADER UNOPPOSED

The dream scenario for a defiant Charles Kennedy. He wins his high-risk game of bluff as his rivals fail to gather the nerve to mount a real challenge to his leadership. Potential rivals fall away, fearing that their ambitions will be destroyed by incurring the wrath of a loyal Liberal Democrat rank and file, leaving Mr Kennedy to be re-elected unopposed.

Likelihood - Seems impossible now

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