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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May 2005, 06:26 GMT 07:26 UK
What now for Kennedy?
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Charles Kennedy with wife Sarah and son Donald
Charles Kennedy with wife Sarah and son Donald

Charles Kennedy has every reason to be delighted with the Liberal Democrat's performance in the general election.

He may not have made that final breakthrough - the voting system took care of that - but he has piloted his party to its biggest Commons showing since Lloyd George.

In the six years since he took over from action man leader Sir Paddy Ashdown - who had already given the party a record number of MPs and power in Scotland - Mr Kennedy has given the party its largest number of MPs since the 1920s.

His big hope was that his claims of being the real opposition would be born out during this election and put him on course for the ultimate prize of challenging Labour for No 10 next time around.

But success might bring its own risks for the most laid-back and approachable of the three big leaders.

Mr Kennedy virtually admitted before the poll that, had he not pulled off a significant advance, internal critics of his leadership style might demand his head.

Question Time

Rumours about his health and lifestyle would re-emerge and he might even have decided to jump before he was pushed.

There is no need for that now and he has repeatedly insisted during the campaign that he fully intends to lead his party into the next election in 2009 or 2010.

But those critics may change tack. Some of them believe that, if they really are to take on the government next time around, they need a different style of leadership.

The laid-back, ordinary bloke approach may have worked during the period of growth in the party's fortunes when it may not have faced the sort of scrutiny that the big two attract.

That will change now, and what is needed, they will claim, is a more hard nosed, even ruthless character to head the next campaign.

That might appear ungrateful in the extreme and, of course, raises the question of who would be that candidate.

And during the campaign, Mr Kennedy showed he could handle the big events like the leaders' Question Time debate which he was widely believed to have won.

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