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Last Updated: Monday, 15 October 2007, 18:46 GMT 19:46 UK
Profile: Sir Menzies Campbell
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News Website

Sir Menzies Campbell may well be remembered as the right Liberal Democrat leader at the wrong time.

SIR MENZIES CAMPBELL
Sir Menzies Campbell
Age: 66
Educated: Hillhead High School, Glasgow; Glasgow University; Stanford University, California
Family: Married
Before politics: Olympic sprinter, advocate
Key quote: "It's not surprising that we should have to raise our game because the political landscape has changed with the advent of David Cameron"
What the papers say: "Experienced, statesman-like and well mannered...has huge support among his parliamentary colleagues and is seen by modernisers as a candidate who can hold the party together," The Financial Times.

The former Olympic athlete, who led the party for just 19 months, was dogged from day one by worries over his age and old-fashioned, some would say statesmanlike, style.

Whichever of those it was, his pin-striped character was seen as out of step with the tie-less political age.

Had he run for the leadership when Paddy Ashdown stood down over a decade ago, he may have "fitted" the time better.

As it is, he often seemed older than his 66 years, partly because of that buttoned down demeanour.

Sir Menzies is, in actual fact, a more clubbable, approachable and witty man than often given credit for. But that never overshadowed his political weight.

Before becoming Lib Dem leader in 2006 he was long one of the few Liberal Democrat spokesmen the other parties did not even try to patronise or dismiss.

He had a formidable grasp of his foreign affairs brief and very few in the party doubted that he would make a good leader.

Cancer battle

The question on many lips when he was made leader, however, was whether, then aged 64, he had already missed his best opportunity.

Despite considerable urging Sir Menzies pulled out of the race to succeed Paddy Ashdown as leader.

Instead he became deputy leader to Charles Kennedy and built his reputation on foreign affairs during years in which he also battled cancer, from which he has since been given a clean bill of health.

It all meant that in the last Lib Dem leadership contest, following Charles Kennedy's resignation, there was always a feeling that he was a caretaker rather than long term leader.

Prior to becoming party leader, "Ming" - as he is universally known - regularly put the government on the spot over the war on Iraq after Charles Kennedy controversially committed the Lib Dems to opposing it.

He was seen as a loyal and effective deputy leader and, in that role, rose higher in the eyes of many party members and MPs.

But ultimately, Sir Menzies' election to the party leadership provided a contrast with the Tories' youthful leader, David Cameron.

Election strategy

Unfortunately the gravitas he exuded as foreign affairs spokesman seemed to elude him after he became leader, proving to be a hesitant performer at his early Prime Minister's Questions.

Throughout his time as leader there have been questions asked about his leadership, questions that only rose as he faced a resurgent Conservative Party and then a Labour government reinvigorated after the Blair/Brown succession.

The combined result was a fall in Lib Dem opinion poll ratings and open discussion at the party conference about who would succeed him.

At the time it was widely believed there would be a snap election, with sprint relay expert Sir Menzies widely expected to hand the baton over after the election.

But, after Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced he would not be calling a poll this Autumn, it was a case of now or never for the Lib Dems.

Sir Menzies could be approaching 70 by the time of the next election.

And, with the best will in the world, he could never be described as "youthful".

It had been hoped that he may be just the sort of experienced, heavyweight character that many in the party felt could dismantle the younger Tory man.

But it seems that his claim during the recent party conference, that his age would be an electoral plus, will not now be put to the test.



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A look at Sir Menzies Campbell's political career



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