Kennedy faces increasing pressure from MPs

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is facing increasing pressure from the party's MPs to step down, after he admitted having a drink problem yesterday.

It emerged that eleven Lib Dem MPs had signed a letter of no confidence, prior to Mr Kennedy's statement, and were now threatening to call for a motion of no confidence next week.

On Friday, Andrew George, the party's international development spokesperson, threatened to resign unless Mr Kennedy stood down as party leader before the end of the weekend. The party's trade and industry Norman Lamb has also threatened to resign and there have been reports than more than 20 other MPs - including several members of the party's frontbench - may also threaten to resign.

However, Mr Kennedy has said that he will not resign this weekend. His spokesperson also said that he did not fear a confidence vote.

Earlier, Nick Harvey warned that Mr Kennedy's position was now untenable, while Chris Davies, the party's leader in the European Parliament, described him as a "dead man walking".

Baroness Tonge, a party member in the House of Lords, said that although she sympathised with Mr Kennedy's alcohol problems, she was "appalled, saddened and disgusted" by Thursday's announcement.

Sandra Gidley also urged Mr Kennedy to "think hard" about whether he had the strength to battle the "triple demons" of the Conservative Party, Labour and the alcohol problems.

Charles Kennedy admitted having a drink problem in a statement delivered at Liberal Democrat headquarters on Thursday afternoon.

He said that he had been "coming to terms" with a drink problem over the past eighteen months and had sought professional help. He said: "I believe today that this issue is essentially resolved. People close to me know that this has been a struggle and for extended periods I have consumed no alcohol at all. As a matter of fact I haven't had a drink for the past two months - and I don't intend to in the future."

Mr Kennedy also called a leadership ballot, but insisted that he remained "politically determined" to remain as leader of the party. He said: "I believe it is only fair now to give our party members their say over the continuing leadership."

If no other candidates announce their intentions to run for the leadership, Mr Kennedy would automatically be elected.

No candidates have yet put their names forward. Both Sir Menzies Campbell, the party's deputy leader, and home affairs spokesperson Mark Oaten said that they would not stand against Mr Kennedy in a leadership contest and voiced support for him.

Sir Menzies said his statement was "brave, dignified and took a remarkable amount of personal courage".

Mr Oaten also urged MPs and party members to support Mr Kennedy, saying that they should "recognise and reward the courage he has shown".


Related UK National News Stories
Click here for the latest headlines.

09 January 2006
Kennedy resignation leads to Lib Dem leadership contest
The Liberal Democrats are set for a leadership battle, following Charles Kennedy's resignation on Saturday. The party's deputy leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, is the only candidate to announce his intention to run for the leadership so far.
23 June 2003
Disarray in UUP as three MPs resign party whip
The resignation of three of the Ulster Unionist Party's MPs from the parliamentary whip earlier today was quickly follows by calls for party leader David Trimble to change party policy or resign.
15 June 2005
Tory MPs to vote on leadership election changes
Conservatives MPs are due to vote tonight on how the leader of the party should be elected.
10 January 2006
Oaten to run for Lib Dem leadership
Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesperson Mark Oaten has announced that he will run for leadership of the party. Mr Oaten will challenge the party's deputy leader Sir Menzies Campbell in the leadership contest, which was announced after Charles Kennedy's resignation.
28 April 2004
Blair defends coalition forces 'right to defence'
During Prime Minister's question time today, Tony Blair fielded questions on the deteriorating situation in Iraq and defended American forces' right to defend themselves against insurgents. Mr Blair told the House it was "perfectly right and proper" for US forces fired upon in Falluja to "take action against those insurgents".