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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 January 2006, 15:37 GMT
Kennedy calls for Lib Dem contest
Charles Kennedy leaves his home on Friday
Mr Kennedy will stay in politics

Charles Kennedy has said he hopes Liberal Democrat members get the chance to choose his successor as leader.

He said a contest was needed so members could have "direct input" after feeling "shut out" of his departure as leader.

The BBC's World This Weekend found Sir Menzies Campbell, the only declared candidate, was backed by at least 22 Lib Dem MPs to be their next leader.

Some want him elected unopposed. But fellow frontrunners Simon Hughes and Mark Oaten are considering standing.

Mr Hughes, party president, said the federal executive would meet on Monday to decide the rules for the leadership election.

Mr Kennedy, who admitted he had a drink problem on Thursday, resigned on Saturday after 25 MPs said they would quit his team unless he stood down.

'Pressure'

Speaking on Sunday as he left home with his wife and son to attend a christening, he said: "I think the really important thing now actually for the party is that an awful lot of our members out there - and this is a voluntary organisation right across the country - feel very shut out of the decisions that have been taken so far.

POTENTIAL CANDIDATES
Confirmed candidates: Sir Menzies Campbell
Yet to say: Simon Hughes, Mark Oaten
Ruled out: Nick Clegg, Ed Davey, Matthew Taylor, Vincent Cable, David Laws

"I think that the members feel that they want to have a direct input. They have tried very hard over the last few days and weeks to make their views known," he said.

"I just hope they get the opportunity to make those views known because they don't want to lose their active engagement."

Mr Hughes said he would not announce whether he was standing until he had overseen the process for choosing the way a new leader will be decided.

However he said he believed that whatever the process, party members wanted a full debate on the future policy direction of the party.

Coronation

A policy review begun by Mr Kennedy after the election would continue, he said, and he cautioned against the candidates' beliefs being "caricatured" as left wing or right wing.

He said some of his colleagues had behaved badly in the deposing of Mr Kennedy.

He told BBC One's Sunday AM that some had been running leadership campaigns last year, and criticised those who had briefed against Mr Kennedy in the media.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I'm not convinced that Charles needed to go and regret that party members didn't get a chance to endorse him
Cllr Paul Whitehead, Bedford

He also said some colleagues had then been "more harsh" than they could have been in their public comments last week.

Some Liberal Democrats, especially backers of Sir Menzies, are hoping the party can unite around one candidate in a "coronation" - similar to the one in which Michael Howard became Conservative leader in 2003.

Asked about that prospect Mr Oaten, home affairs spokesman, replied: "I need to talk to the other possible contenders but I'm in no mood to have a long-drawn-out issue."

He said he could not say whether he would stand at the moment, because he wanted to consult with other people and decide what was in the best interests of the party.

Tony Blair

Treasury spokesman Vincent Cable, education spokesman Ed Davey, work and pensions spokesman David Laws, grandees Lord Steel and Baroness Williams have all said they would be backing Sir Menzies to be the next leader.

But party chairman Paul Holmes told The World This Weekend programme that he favoured Mr Hughes.

Sir Menzies Campbell
Sir Menzies Campbell is acting as interim leader

The programme spoke to over half of the 62 Lib Dem MPs, and - in conjunction with other public declarations - found that at least 22 supported Sir Menzies, three Mr Hughes and two Mr Oaten.

Fifteen of the MPs were undecided.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, asked about Mr Kennedy on BBC One's Sunday AM programme, said: "I think he had, and has, a tremendous instinctive feel for where people are.

"He was always very, very easy and good to work with, someone who I think had a lot of integrity. And I feel very sorry for him in his present situation. I wish him well."

In his resignation statement Mr Kennedy stressed he wanted to remain in national and local politics for many years to come and urged his successor not to get too distracted by the "machinations" of other parties.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See who the potential successors to Kennedy are



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