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Wednesday, April 21, 1999 Published at 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK

UK Politics

Harvey considering quitting Lib Dem race

Nick Harvey: Wants a proper intellectual and political debate

Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey has confirmed he is prepared to back out of the race to lead the party to help narrow the field.

Mr Harvey, MP for Devon North, believes that there are too many candidates in the race to succeed Paddy Ashdown.

[ image: Paddy Ashdown: Became leader in 1988]
Paddy Ashdown: Became leader in 1988
Mr Ashdown, who has led the party for a decade, announced in January he was going to retire as party leader after the European elections in June.

There are up to nine contenders to lead the party into the millennium.

Among the frontrunners are Charles Kennedy, Menzies Campbell and Simon Hughes.

Mr Harvey says the current field is too big for a proper intellectual and political debate.

"I haven't ruled myself out," he said. "What I'm saying is that we've got to get away for some quiet discussions in rooms. We've got to narrow this field down.

[ image: Menzies Campbell: Frontrunner to lead the party]
Menzies Campbell: Frontrunner to lead the party
"I've taken a bit of lead here to try to get people talking and really we've got to do this in the next few weeks."

The contest for the Liberal Democrat leadership will be fought between 12 June and 11July.

Mr Harvey said it was a good thing that there were so many credible candidates.

But Mr Harvey said that if the party's foreign spokesman Menzies Campbell attracted more support, he would be prepared to step down.

He said: "Menzies Campbell and I look at things in a similar way.

"If the conclusion we reach between us and with others is that he's got a better chance of winning this contest than I have, this isn't an ego trip and I would be willing to lend my support to others who want to take the party in a similar direction."

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