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Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 17:55 GMT
Menzies Campbell: Foreign Affairs

By BBC News Online's Ben Davies

Menzies Campbell, one of the best known and most respected Liberal Democrat politicians in the Commons, is also one of the few MPs who can claim to have any athletic prowess.

The onetime sprinter represented the UK in the 1964 Olympics before going on to a career in law.

Menzies Campbell representing the UK in the 1964 Olympics
Menzies Campbell representing the UK in the 1964 Olympics
Mr Campbell was with the then future Labour leader John Smith and the future first Scottish first minister Donald Dewar at Glasgow University.

While both the other men, who have since died, joined the Labour Party, Mr Campbell was drawn to Liberals mainly because of their then leader, Jo Grimond.

As president of the Glasgow student Liberals Mr Campbell cut his teeth in university debates before heading off to America where he studied law at Stanford University in California.

At the time the campus was in total ferment because of the anti-Vietnam war movement.

Law first, politics later

But instead of returning to Scotland and getting straight back into the political scene, Mr Campbell qualified for the Scottish bar and it was not until the controversy over sporting links with South Africa that he was tempted to get involved.

In fact it was David Steel - who was to become Liberal leader - who persuaded him to speak at a rally against a South African rugby tour to Scotland.

It was many years before Mr Campbell was to enter Parliament. But for the remainder of the 1970s he was involved in the Scottish Liberal Party, as its chairman between 1975-77 and a member of its policy committee for two years after that.

In the Commons

In 1987, and after three attempts, he won the seat that former Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith had represented in Fife.

In 1981 the "gang of four" senior Labour politicians, including Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins, had broken away to form the Social Democratic Party, which then forged an electoral alliance with the Liberal Party.


The much younger Charles Kennedy (right) succeeded Paddy Ashdown
Eventually the two parties merged to form first the Social and Liberal Democrats, before shortening the title to become the Liberal Democrats.

A year after Mr Campbell was elected, Paddy Ashdown won the leadership contest.

Early defence role

He quickly asked Mr Campbell to speak for the party on defence.

On many issues such as Europe, devolution and constitutional reform Mr Campbell is a straight down the line Liberal Democrat.

He backed Mr Ashdown in his attempt to develop ties with Labour where there were common areas of interest such as constitutional reform.

Likely successor?

In many ways Mr Campbell would have appeared the obvious candidate to succeed Mr Ashdown when he decided to step down as Lib Dem leader 1999 except for one factor: his age, 59 at that time.

In the end he decided not to run in a competition he might not win and Mr Ashdown's mantle passed to the much younger Charles Kennedy.

In last year's competition for House of Commons speaker he was one of several highly rated candidates who were beaten out of the running by Labour's Michael Martin.

Mr Campbell was born in 1941 to builder George and civil servant Elizabeth.

He is married to Lady Grant Suttie and he has one stepson.

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