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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 May 2006, 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK
'Too soon' to judge Sir Menzies
Sir Menzies Campbell
Lib Dem MPs discussed their leader's Commons performances
The Lib Dems should not be too quick to judge new leader Sir Menzies Campbell, a former leadership contender has said.

The time to assess his performance was after six months - not "a few weeks", Simon Hughes told GMTV's Sunday Programme.

On Wednesday, party MPs discussed Sir Menzies' Question Time performances after they came under fire.

But frontbencher Ed Davey said that the party's problems dated from Charles Kennedy's time as leader.

Mr Kennedy stepped down after it emerged that he had a drink problem.

Mr Davey said: "You have got to remember where we were three or four months ago. We have had a pretty traumatic time in the party.

"For some of us it actually went back quite a few years. The party hadn't been managed as well as it should be," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The Liberal Democrat press office said it was looking at ways to improve Sir Menzies' performance at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs). Possible changes might include to the sort of questions Sir Menzies asked.

And his chief of staff Norman Lamb has advised Sir Menzies to "relax and be himself" in the "bear pit" of the Commons.

'Take stock'

Mr Hughes, who came third in the recent leadership contest, said the party should "take stock" of Sir Menzies' progress at the Lib Dem's annual September conference.

In a pre-recorded interview, he told the Sunday Programme that Sir Menzies' political experience was in foreign affairs and defence.

[Sir Menzies] is a leader who is decisive and confident and making the right decisions
Ed Davey

"That's his expertise and on that ground there's nobody who can better him and that remains the case. Obviously as leader you have to progress."

Mr Hughes said it was "fair comment" to suggest more effort should be put into improving the leader's performance during his weekly clashes with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"Ming is fully aware of that. He will now have time to be in Westminster and concentrating, but it's not to be underestimated the work that needed to be done behind the scenes for getting the policies sorted."

Mr Davey, the party's trade and industry spokesman, defended his leader's performance.

"Some of us are judging Ming now and we are seeing a leader who is decisive and confident and making the right decisions," he said.

'Bear pit'

Mr Lamb, who was promoted to chief of staff after Sir Menzies became leader in March, hit back at suggestions his boss was not dynamic enough.

Conservative and Labour backbenchers are out to get him - it's a bear pit that place
Norman Lamb
Lib Dem chief of staff

Like every leader, Sir Menzies had advisers to help assist him in coming to terms with the "rather unusual environment" of PMQs, Mr Lamb told BBC Radio Five Live.

"Ming Campbell, I think most people would agree, has been one of the most pre-eminent parliamentary performers in recent years and I think it is a question of getting used to a slightly different environment.

"Both Conservative and Labour backbenchers are out to get him - it's a bear pit that place."

He added that one of his predecessors, Paddy Ashdown, had hated Parliament and PMQs, and yet had ended up as an "impressive and successful" leader.

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