A very difficult few days for the Liberal Democrats.
Charles Kennedy did a very good personal political job yesterday by declaring his alcoholism and an election for the leadership at the same time. but it may have been very bad politics for the Liberal Democrat party
It is a pity that, from my point of view, he is very wrong if he thinks either the members or the general public are broadly supportive. In our locality every person I have spoken to today is convinced he has to go - either because they have thought this for some time or because they believe he has now nowhere to go after his statement last night. SKY NEWS is telling me he says he has overwhelming support - thats not what I see or hear.
The parliamentary party members who have finally and bravely gone public today with their concerns are clearly suffering from the pain of taking such extreme measures but they should be looking at what is best for the party. In a couple of years time we will be able to look back on this period and either say we ducked a major issue and became a divided and weakened party - or made a bold (if painful) transition to a leader selected at an open election giving us the possibility of another step change in support and power.
I do not think there is any reason why Charles Kennedy could not stand in the election, but it must be against the most credible and willing candidates. Ming, Mark Oaten, Simon Hughes and whoever else would stand must not be constrained by any historical commitment and Charles could free them from those commitments by standing down before an election - but then if he wishes standing again for the leadership.
The whole membership votes, and their single transferable vote will be final. If the result is Charles Kennedy again he is going to HAVE to work with people who have openly criticised him. If he cannot work with them then we may see a fragmentation of the party which would perhaps cause some even more cataclysmic change in the other parties - impossible to predict.
I hope that (whoever is elected) the new leader can be a strong policy advocate with presence, integrity and capable of inspiring a large number of dedicated and committed party members across the country.