BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 15 October 2007, 18:31 GMT 19:31 UK
Why Sir Menzies went
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Gordon Brown was earlier this year accused of plotting to fatally undermine Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell - he has now achieved it virtually by accident.

Sir Menzies Campbell and Simon Hughes
Sir Menzies was urged to do better by Hughes
Shortly after becoming prime minister, Mr Brown attempted to woo senior Lib Dems into his big tent and was roundly rebuffed by Sir Menzies, who spotted the traps a mile off.

Now, in a bizarre twist, it is the prime minister's dither over whether or not to call a snap election that has so spectacularly done the job.

So long as Mr Brown tantalised with the prospect of an autumn poll, Sir Menzies was safe from the "young turks" and party activists disappointed at his lacklustre leadership.

The moment the prime minister abandoned election plans and, worse for Sir Menzies, appeared to delay it for at least 18 months, he whipped the rug from under the beleaguered Liberal Democrat leader.

All those deep-seated worries about Sir Menzies' age - which have seen allegations of ageism - and inability to bring any chutzpah to the job or lift the party from the doldrums rushed to the surface - and not just from the media who are facing some of the blame.

Caretaker leader

Senior party figures decided they simply could not allow things to drift any longer and that they now had plenty of time to choose a fresh, new leader who would have time to make an impact with voters before the poll.

Nick Clegg
Mr Clegg is seen as a likely successor
So, all the old suggestions that Sir Menzies was a "caretaker leader" chosen to take the party through a difficult period until a younger leader emerged, resurfaced.

That said, no one had expected his leadership would prove this brief and no one had told him to go - they didn't get the chance.

Sir Menzies insists came to the same decision himself, although it appears he may have done so only after coming to the conclusion he was not receiving the full support of some of his colleagues and was irritated by it.

The fact that former leader and close friend, Lord Ashdown, had a planned meeting with him where he would have told him only go on his own terms spoke volumes about the difficult position he was in.

And it was the prospect of 18 more months of the sort of poll ratings that have recently been showing the party losing ground that seems to have sparked the move.

The question now is who will replace Sir Menzies and why a fresh new face might be something Gordon Brown would welcome.

The immediate leadership betting focused on "young turks" Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg - both of whom were at the centre of leadership speculation during the party's conference last month.

Others may well throw their hats into the ring but all will hope the result is not a re-run of the revelatory and damaging campaign just last year when Charles Kennedy confessed to a drink problem.

Tory votes

On the second question, Mr Brown's likely reasons for wanting a new Lib Dem leader are, in effect, the same reasons the Liberal Democrats want one.

They both believed Sir Menzies was not going to be successful enough.

Specifically, they worried he was not going to be successful enough in attracting the votes they need to do well in the next general election - and they are, largely, Tory votes.

Similarly they wanted a leader to stop Lib Dem voters, particularly in the south west, switching to the Tories.

Tory leader David Cameron, who seems to have benefited from Gordon Brown's election dither, has moved onto the centre ground and the Liberal Democrats have been finding it increasingly difficult to appear distinctive.

From the very start of his leadership, Sir Menzies was dogged with claims he was failing to meet the challenge from the revitalised Tories.

More than once he faced barely-disguised warnings from within his party that he needed to up his game.

And each time he accepted the criticisms but insisted he would lead the party into and beyond the next general election.

It seems that, once that election was dangled in front of the party only to be snatched away, minds were re-focused.



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
A look at Sir Menzies Campbell's political career



RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific