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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 August 2006, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Kennedy is 'welcome to come back'
Charles Kennedy MP
Mr Kennedy will speak at the party's Brighton conference
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell has given Charles Kennedy an open invitation to rejoin the party's front bench team.

Speaking in Edinburgh, Sir Menzies said Mr Kennedy had been right to resign as party leader in January - when he admitted having a drink problem.

But he said he would happily welcome Mr Kennedy back to the front line when he was ready to return.

He praised the ex-leader for having a rare ability to connect with people.

Mr Kennedy says talk that he may want to challenge Sir Menzies for the leadership is fanciful.

But asked if he may yet become leader again, he has said: "Who knows what the future holds?"

'Rare quality'

Mr Kennedy is making a speech on the platform at the party's conference in Brighton next month.

And a Newsnight poll suggested that more than half of people, 53%, thought he would be the best Lib Dem leader, compared with 26% for Sir Menzies.

Speaking at the Scottish Parliament's Festival of Politics, Sir Menzies said Mr Kennedy had been right to step down in the interests of himself, his family and his party.

But he went on: "When he is ready then if I am leader of the party, I would be happy to welcome him back because he has a rare quality which not many politicians possess in 2006.

"He connects directly with the public in a way that many politicians simply cannot hope to do."

Sir Menzies has been criticised in recent months for poor opinion poll ratings but in an ICM/Guardian survey this week, the Lib Dems climbed five points on last month.

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